Popo and Fifina: Children of Haiti by Arna Bontemps and Langston Hughes
Post number forty is for Popo and Fifina: Children of Haiti, which was written by Arna Bontemps and Langston Hughes. This book was another requirement for my History of Children's Literature course, and was considered ground-breaking, mostly because of who the authors were, and the subject matter of the book (which was written and marketed for children).
I don't really have a lot to say about it – I was sort of unimpressed – but will put a spoiler space just in case.
Popo and Fifina are the two oldest children of a poor, Haitian family growing up in Cape Haiti. Papa Jean is a fisherman, while Mamma Anna stays home with the baby, Pensia, and Popo and Fifina. The book is basically a day-by-day of an account of their life for a short period of time, and is about as ho-hum as it sounds. There were apparently a few pokes at society – Papa Jean makes Popo a kite that's shaped like a red star (like the Soviet army), and Popo sees a clandestine dance/meeting where they beat drums, which were frowned upon by the Marines and the catholic church in Haiti at the time – but all in all the book was kind of dull. Popo is a charming child, as is Fifina (who is the oldest), and you get to see their day-to-day struggles, like having to use soap weed to wash the clothes because Mamma Anna uses her pennies to buy a candy stick each for Popo and Fifina, etc. But the storyline was just sort of … uninspiring, I guess. I guess it could be a teachable moment – look how happy this family is, even though they don't have anything extra and don't have much money, and how they use everything up completely, and are content without much more, etc., but for me it just wasn't that great of a story.
What I found most interesting in the book was the author bios that were included. Did you know, for instance, that Langston Hughes very nearly joined the Communist party, and actually was called before McCarthy's Senate committee to testify to his "communist activities"? He even lived in the Soviet Union for a year, and traveled to Haiti a few times, as well as Mexico. Langston Hughes is someone we cover during Black History Month because he is from Missouri, but you can bet that his "communist leanings" aren't part of the curriculum. :-P
As an aside, this week's readings (of which Popo and Fifina is a part) include two picture books (Millions of Cats and Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel) as well as the Superman Chronicles, Volume One. The 1930s sure were an eclectic time, weren't they?