Kids Read: Haiti

I knew very little about Haiti before reading picture books, and Memory at Bay (discussed below) this week. We only tend to hear about Haiti when there has been a natural disaster. This week we learned so much about the history of Haiti as well as the resilience of the people who have overcome colonization, dictatorships, floods, hurricanes, earthquakes, and poverty and continue to have a unique, vibrant culture. We tasted delicious Haitian food and practiced a little Haitian Creole.

I am loving learning right alongside my girls. I am going into the school year this year with my 3rd and 4th graders with a much different mindset than I ever have before. I am seeing first hand how important it is for our children to be exposed to people, stories, languages, and cultures different from their own. I am already thinking of ways to sneak picture books from around the world into all the content areas. I’ll be sure to post what I come up with.

This week we are also enjoying the posts and conversations happening over at World Kid Lit , which is hosting World Kid Lit Month. Are you reading any books from around the world this month?

If you know of any other great picture books set in, or about Haiti, please let me know so I can do a follow up post!


Kid Reads

Auntie Luce’s Talking Paintings

“My face fills the frame, so big and close that if you look long enough, it starts to look like a whole land-brown hills melting into yellow valleys melting into red riverbeds, and even the rivers’ silver light, running smooth over the rocks.”

Auntie Luce’s Talking Paintings by daughter of Haitian parents Francie Latour & illustrator Ken Daley, published by Groundwood Books, is the story of a young girl who flies to Haiti each year to visit her aunt, a painter, who uses her brush to record the stories of Haiti. Using her aunt’s paintings, the young girl tries to untangle the truth about Haiti’s tumultuous past, and understand her aunt’s optimism for the future.

The writing in this book is mesmerizing; there is so much richness and beauty in the words. I reread the quote above a few times just because it is so perfect. The way the author intertwines Haiti’s past and present, framed by the story of the young girl, wanting to know who she is and where she comes from, is flawless. The bright paintings that accompany the text add so much dimension and feeling.

An author’s note at the end outlines Haiti’s history, including the revolution that resulted in Haiti’s independence from France. Even this is told in a deeply moving way.

If you could only get your hands on one book to use when learning about Haiti, this would be my recommendation.

I borrowed this book from our local library.

Haiti My Country

“Haiti! A beautiful land that the warm sun illuminates,

appears extraordinary in the eyes of children

because of the songs of lively birds

amongst its fragrant flowers.”

Haiti My Country is a book of poems written by Haitian Schoolchildren, illustrated by Canadian artist Roge, translated by Solange Messier, and published by Fifth House Publishers. The poems all feature nature and give a beautiful introduction to the country of Haiti and its people. We have read and reread these already this week.

There are a variety of fruits mentioned in this book, some which my girls are familiar with, and some they are not. We already made a list of the ones we will be looking for at the store this weekend so we can experience some of the flavors of Haiti.

The language the students use to describe what they see around them is beautiful and rhythmic. I’m so glad we were able to include a book of poems on our list this week. These poems were a great way to start learning about Haiti. They truly paint a picture in your mind of the small things that delight the children of Haiti, the things they enjoy about their country, and what they are proud of.

I Want to Ride the Tap Tap

“The tap tap clanked to a halt. ‘Welcome aboard,’ the driver said. Claude dashed inside.”

I Want to Ride the Tap Tap by Danielle Joseph & Haitian illustrator Olivier Ganthier, published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux, is a bright, lively story about a boy who longs to be able to ride the tap tap bus, which stops in his neighborhood every day. Day after day his mom explains that he can’t follow his father, or the lady who sells mangos, or the fisherman because he has to go to school or do chores. Finally, on Sunday, his parents surprise him with a trip on the tap tap to the beach where he sees all the people he met during the week. He gets to experience and do all the things he longed to all week.

This was a fun introduction to a tap tap bus, something I knew nothing about before reading this book, and Haitian culture. The story was straightforward and easy for my little ones to understand. We had fun trying out some new Haitian Creole words, and seeing how the little boy in the story had school and chores just like they do.

A glossary of Haitian Creole words, which are found throughout the text, are included in the back matter.

I borrowed this book from our local library.

Eight Days: A Story of Haiti

“On the eighth day, when they finally found me, I was so happy, because I could feel the hot sun on my skin and see the bright blue sky. I could see Manman and Papa and Justine, too.”

Eight Days: A Story of Haiti, by Haitian-American author Edwidge Danticat & Haitian-American illustrator Alix Delinois, published by Orchard Books, beautifully describes the lives of Haitian children and families, framed as memories and imaginings of a 7 year-old boy who is trapped under his earthquake-devastated home for 8 days before he is rescued. While trapped he imagines playing marbles with his friend, playing hide and seek with his family, playing soccer, and enjoying other everyday activities.

While it is clear from the beginning of the story the boy does get rescued, I would recommend this book for elementary students and above. I decided not to read this book to my pre-school aged children, only because I can see them becoming overly concerned with an earthquake hitting our area (we just had massive flooding), and being scared of what could happen to them if our house were to fall. It also alludes to the protagonist’s friend dying nearby, but this is not a major focus of the story.

I think this book has a lot of value in that is shows Haitian children engaging in everyday activities with their friends and families, just as children around the world do. The illustrations are bright, and joy radiates off the children’s faces as they play. The story also could be used to begin a discussion about the effects of natural disasters on people’s lives.

I borrowed this book from our local library.

SeLaVi: A Haitian Story of Hope


“We still have each other! Let’s rebuild our home. We still have our voices. Let’s start a radio station.”

SeLaVi: A Haitian Story of Hope, by Youme Landowne, published by Cinco Puntos Press, is based on the experiences of homeless children in Port-Au-Prince Haiti. The characters of Selavi and TiFre are real people who, after joining with other homeless children to survive, were kicked out of their makeshift home by angry men.  Selavi found help in a group of people from a church who decided to build a house for the children where they could sleep safely, eat, and go to school. After the building was burned down, it was rebuilt and a radio station was created so their voices could not be silenced. It appears the radio station is still active today.

This book shows the resilience of Haitian people, as well as the importance of community and working together to overcome life’s challenges. While it is upsetting to read about the children’s early experiences, the book focuses on the future, and the hope that life will be better for them all. There is so much detail and nuance in the illustrations of this book that I think could be missed if you aren’t careful. I would recommend taking some time to really look at and discuss the illustrations while or after reading.

Extensive back matter includes information about the orphanage, the children-led radio station, and Haiti’s history.

I borrowed this book from our local library.


My Day with Panye


“With my feet planted in the cool sand, I say, ‘The panye means we are graceful when the load is heavy. We are strong even when the earth is not. We are family, fed from love.”

My Day with Panye, Tami Charles & Sara Palacios, published by Candlewick Press, is the story of Fallon, a young girl who lives in the hills of Port-au-Prince with her family, and wants nothing more than to be able to carry the panye on her head like her mom. On their trip to the market, Fallon describes what she sees and references things that have occured in Haiti recently including the earthquake. In the end Fallon is able to take what she has learned by observing what surrounds her during their trip, and carry the panye on her head.

This story is a joyful one, the tale of  a little girl who just wants to be like her mom, something many children can relate to. It shows the strength and resilience of the Hatian people in a way that is easy to understand for young children. While hardships are alluded to, they are not the focus of the story, so this is a book that can be shared and discussed with even very young listeners.

Back matter includes notes about the cultural significance of the panye, and why author Tami Charles chose to set her story in her husband’s native country of Haiti.

I borrowed this book from our local library.

Mama’s Nightingale: Story of Immigration and Separation


“I close my eyes and imagine Mama lying next to me as she leans in to whisper the nightingale’s story in my ear. I imagine Mama tucking me in, kissing me good night, then going to sleep in the next room with Papa.”

Mama’s Nightingale: Story of Immigration and Separation, by Haitian-American author Edwidge Danticat & Leslie Staub, published by Dial Books for Young Readers, is the story of young Saya, whose mother is taken to an immigration detention center. To bridge the space between them, Saya’s mother begins sending her tapes with recorded bedtime stories, stories that include Haitian folklore, and some which her mother has created just for her. Saya begins writing stories of her own which she sends to a newspaper reporter. Because of her story, Saya’s mother is able to return home with them until she has the papers she needs to live and work legally.

After listening to Mama’s Nightingale: Story of Immigration and Separation, my 4 1/2 year old daughter had some questions about immigration, seperation, and detention centers. I feel this book does a great job introducing these concepts gently, while keeping the focus on Saya and how she’s feeling. I’m glad we were able to talk about these things at home, and after reading, before she hears about them somewhere else.

An author’s note at the end of the book explains why this story is so important to the author who was separated from her parents for most of her early life.

I borrowed this book from our local library.

Tap-Tap

“Finally they reached the big road. Many people were talking. Some rode on slow tired horses. Others led donkeys with heavy loads of sugarcane and bananas. Sasifi wished she could ride a donkey or a horse, or better still, speed along in a tap-tap.”

Tap-Tap, by Karen Lynn Williams & Catherine Stock, published by Clarion Books, is the story of Sasifi who accompanies her mother to the market. She does not understand why they can’t ride the tap-tap today, and why others ride donkeys or horses, while she has to carry their oranges on their heads. After successfully selling all their oranges Sasifi gets a reward from her mother, a beautiful wide-brimmed hat with a red ribbon, as well as some change to buy something at the market. Sasifi decides instead to use the money to ride the tap-tap home. She then waits anxiously as more and more people squeeze onto the tap-tap with their purchases, excited to begin the journey home.

Market life comes to life through the words and beautiful water-color illustrations in this book. It was also fun to learn about what a ride on a tap-tap can be like with people, crying goats and chickens crammed on, chairs tied to the top, and all different kinds of food people are bringing home making a young rider hungry.

I borrowed this book from our local library.


I Came from the Water: One Haitian Boy’s Incredible Tale of Survival

“Haiti is very beautiful. I love my Haiti. If you come to Haiti, come to where I live. Maybe you will ride on my tap-tap.”

I Came from the Water: One Haitian Boy’s Incredible Tale of Survival, by Vanita Oelschlager & Mike Blanc, published by Vanita Books, takes place in Haiti after the Gonaives floods of 2004. As rain fell and the rivers rose, a young child’s family is washed away, while he sleeps in a basket floating along. He was found crying and hungry and taken to a children’s village where he lives with other children who lost their parents. There he is named Moses after the baby in a basket of the Bible. The story tells of the kind people who helped Moses and how he helps others after an earthquake, floods, and cholera ravage Haiti.

This book is told in simple prose, making it an accessible story for even young children. Told more like narrative nonfiction, this book does not have a true narrative arch; it provides information about Haiti and the resilience of the people who have come up against so much in recent years.

Back matter includes photographs of the Children’s Village where Moses lives, as well as photographs of places around Haiti during and after natural disasters. A portion of the sales of this book is sent to the children’s village showcased in the book.

I borrowed this book from our local library.

Resources/Food

This week I again used a Thistles and Biscuits unit study to enhance our experience learning about Haiti. I think these unit studies are helping us get a better overview and understanding of the countries we are reading about, than picture books can do alone.

We tried out two of the recipes included in the unit study, one for soup joumou, and one for the fried plantains. I’ve read the picture book Freedom Soup goes along with the soup joumou recipe perfectly, but it still has not come in at the library (insert my angry face). I’ll have to update our list for Haiti when I finally get to read it. Both dishes were outstanding. The soup had flavors different than anything I have ever tasted before. It was slightly tangy, but also savory and hearty. I will say, it was time consuming (about 2 1/2 hours), but well worth the effort, and I will be making it again.

Also included in the study are flashcards and background information highlighting things of cultural and national importance, geography practice, copy work, information on music and art, a Haitian Creole activity, and a booklist. It’s really everything you need to do a pretty in depth study of this amazing country.

Thank you Thistles and Biscuits for sending us our copy! You can grab the unit study here. I am not affiliated in any way with Thistles and Biscuits.


Adult Read

This week I have been reading Memory at Bay, by Haitian author Evelyne Trouillot, published by University of Virginia Press. I haven’t quite finished yet, but I am loving it so far. This story is told in alternating voices, one the widow of the Haitian dictator Papa Doc Duvalier, who is now in a nursing home on her death bed, the other is an émigré whose mother suffered greatly under Duvalier’s rule, losing family members and parts of herself, and is now taking care of the widow. While the caretaker knows who the old widow is, the widow does not know the caretaker’s background, but is beginning to suspect she has great distain for her. At this point I am left wondering if the caretaker will go through with her plan to murder the widow.

Memory at Bay brilliantly explores the power of memory and point of view, as the two characters have vastly different views and memories about events that occurred during Duvalier’s rule. I am learning a lot about Haiti between 1957 and 1971 from reading both women’s accounts.

I’ll be sure to update this post when I have finished the book.


I’d love to hear what books, projects, artists, music, and other fun things you’d recommend from Haiti. Email me, message me, or comment/DM on Instagram.

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