Written by Tami Charles
Illustrated by Jacqueline Alcántara
Candlewick Press 12/10/2019
32 pages Ages 5—9
Genre: Children’s Picture Book, Historical Fiction
Themes: New Year’s Celebrations, Haitian Culture & Traditions
Every year, Haitians all over the world ring in the New Year by eating Freedom Soup, a tradition dating back to the Haitian Revolution. This year, Ti Gran is teaching Belle how to make the soup, just as she was taught when she was a little girl. Together, they dance and clap as they prepare the holiday feast.
“Know why they call is Freedom Soup?” Ti Gran asks. She then tells Belle about the history of Freedom Soup, the history of Belle’s family, and the history of Haiti, where Belle’s family is from.
Freedom Soup is a celebration of family, of history, and of passing down cultural traditions from one generation to the next. Jacqueline Alcántara’s lush illustrations bring Belle’s story, as well as the story of the Haitian Revolution, to life, while Tami Charles’s lyrical text, is as accessible as it is sensory—making for a book that readers will enjoy to the last drop. (from back cover)
“Today is New Year’s Day. This year, I get to help make Freedom Soup. Ti Gran says I’ve got a heart made for cooking, and it’s time I learn how.”
Why I Like Freedom Soup
Snow is falling outside, but inside it is warm and smells sweet. Ti Gran and her granddaughter Belle are making the traditional Freedom Soup. Soon family members, close and extended, will gather for the New Year celebration. The star of the celebration is always the Freedom Soup. With Haitian Kompo vibrating throughout the kitchen, Belle and Ti Gran move to the rhythm as Belle learns how to make her grandmother’s Freedom Soup; soup she learned from her mother, who learned from hers, and so on down the generational line. With a pilon (mortar and pestle) between her knees, Belle begins to mash herbs in rhythm to the Kompo beat. When finished, they add the mash to the meat, letting the meat rest and absorb the flavors.
But there is no rest for Belle or Ti Gran. They must peel the boiled pumpkin, removing the unwanted skin. Soon, Ti Gran places the marinated meat into a new pan and browns it. She cuts the remaining ingredients Belle will add to the pot. Just like last year and every year prior, Ti Gran asks Belle if she knows why the soup is called “Freedom Soup.” Just like last year and the years before, Belle gives her the standard answer, which makes Ti Gran belly-laugh. Ti Gran’s Freedom Soup comes with a history lesson about the soup and its connection to the Haitian Revolution.
Freedom Soup is as much a tradition in Belle’s home as is the New Year and Christmas before that. Making the soup is not only a tradition but also an honor Ti Gran does not take lightly, though you may not know this from all her smiles and laughter. Readers will hear a shortened version of the Haitian Revolution, but the most important part, the abolishment of slavery in Haiti, and the freeing of its people are never short-changed. From Tami Charles’ lyrical and sensory text to the flowing, colorful art of Jacqueline Alcántara, the past is as clear as is the future.
On nearly every spread, readers’ can see the picture Charles paints with her text. Belle sees “the fire dancing in their eyes as they fight to take back what’s theirs.” On the streets of Port-au-Prince, “I see the colors of freedom: covered in broken black chains, kettles of hot yellow soup, a sweet pumpkiny-garlic aroma filling the air.” As the KOMPO (Spanish word meaning beat or rhythm), beats in Ti Gran’s kitchen, Alcántara takes us from the present of the kitchen to the past of the battlefield. Slaves on foot and on horseback are ready for the battle of their lives. Then, with victory secured and Freedom Soup enjoyed by all, readers return to Ti Gran’s aroma-filled kitchen.
Young children never see actual fighting, as Ti Gran tells Belle the story, from battlefield to victory, to Freedom Soup in quick succession. Soon, family of all ages, genders, and generations arrive. They laugh, dance, and reminisce the first night of the New Year away, all while eating Freedom Soup to remind themselves of family and what they endured to make them a free people.
Freedom Soup is an inspiring story about remembering the past and the importance of cultural traditions, while living in the present, together as one united family. Freedom Soup is a powerful testament to the spirit of the Haitian people. It is a powerful reminder of the past, which they honor and refuse to forget. Kids of all ages will see what Belle sees on the shores of Haiti. Freedom Soup is a powerful multicultural picture book with a lesson for all about the power of freedom, remembering family, and the cultural traditions that keep them together each passing year.
There are two important sections in the back matter: “Freedom Soup” and an “Author’s Note.”
In Freedom Soup, author Tami Charles gives readers one recipe for Freedom Soup and explains why the soup can change in flavor from family to family or from one region of Haiti to another region. She calls this recipe “kid-friendly” and with ingredients easier to find in local stores. A recipe for Epis, meat marinade, is also included along with an ingredient list.
In the Author’s Note, Charles lets readers in on why and how she came about writing Freedom Soup. She is not Haitian but her husband is, therefore she keeps the traditions alive for their son, who she is teaching to cook Freedom Soup. Tami learned from her husband’s Ti Gran. Readers get a little family background most, myself included, will find interesting.
Illustrations Rendered in: pencil, marker, and gouache, then assembled digitally.
Available at Amazon
FREEDOM SOUP. Text copyright © 2019 by Tami Charles. Illustrations copyright © 2019 by Jacqueline Alcántara. Published by Candlewick Press, city, state.
Copyright © 2020 by Sue Morris/Kid Lit Reviews. All Rights Reserved
[I am an Amazon affiliate. When you purchase through a link on KLR, you are supporting Kid Lit Reviews. For each sale, KLR makes a small commission, which costs you nothing extra. This is an easy way to show your support for this site, without using your own money. For each commission received, I gratefully thank you.]