Saludos, todos! This week marks the beginning of our February theme on Haiti. As Keira explains in her Sobre Febrero post, we’ve decided to celebrate Black History Month by focusing on Afro-Caribbean narratives: “When we’ve discussed Black History Month in the past, we’ve broadened the conversation by looking at resources related to the vast African diaspora of Latin America, which in itself is a worthwhile endeavor because African history is deeply entwined with Latin American history. This year we want to go deeper by focusing on the Afro-Caribbean experience specifically.” To this end, I have decided to focus this month’s children’s books on Haitian authors and Haitian narratives: “...in February our writers will turn their attention to Afro-Caribbean cultures and specifically Haiti, a country whose people are of predominantly African descent and whose complicated history is frequently overlooked or simplified. Our hope is that these resources will contribute to teaching and learning about this remarkable country.” Some of this month’s book reviews will continue to dialogue with last month’s themes on civil rights and human rights. Across it all, we will also celebrate the spirit of Valentine’s day by emphasizing themes of love (love of self, love of community) through our conversations about Haiti. As Keira beautifully put it, this month’s theme “continues our earlier focus on social justice and activism, both of which can be seen as outpourings of love for the world and society around us.”
Our book for this week is Eight Days, A Story of Haiti written by Edwidge Danticat and illustrated by Alix Delinois. Last month we also featured a book by Edwidge Danticat, Mama’s Nightingale: A Story of Immigration and Separation, in recognition of our themes on civil rights. We have previously featured other educator’s guides and reviews on books about Haiti, including Serafina’s Promise by Ann E. Burg, Krik? Krak! also by Edwidge Danticat, and In Darkness by Nick Lake. This last book, In Darkness, is a Young Adult novel that follows a very similar story line to that of Eight Days, A Story of Haiti. This may be useful for educators interested in pursuing these themes with older students.
Eight Days, A Story of Haiti tells the story of a young boy who is trapped under his house for eight long days following Haiti’s 2010 earthquake. In order to keep his spirits high and make the time pass, he daydreams of running and playing in the sunshine, scenes which have been beautifully illustrated by Delinois to “reflect the beauty of Haitian life before the earthquake, and what is possible for the future.” Despite living through a terrifying experience, the child protagonist embodies hope and potential.
Danticat is originally from Haiti and frequently writes children’s, young adult and adult books on themes of Haiti or Haitian-Americans. Many of Danticat’s stories often include autobiographical elements, as well as contemporary, sociopolitical information about Haiti. Thus, Danticat’s Eight Days, A Story of Haiti, as well as many of her other books, would be a perfect way to teach a lesson on Haiti’s 2010 earthquake, or other more current events and conditions in Haiti.
At the back of Eight Days, A Story of Haiti, Danticat includes a note from the author where she explains how she found out about Haiti’s earthquake on January 12, 2010, including her frantic worries for friends and family back home, and the concern of her two young daughters, who visited Haiti every year of their young lives. At this moment, Danticat reflects on the differing versions of Haiti that she and her daughters will remember, one before the earthquake and one after. This story beautifully and tragically captures both perspectives. (Image to the left: The statue of the unknown maroon, also known as the “Neg Maron”, a landmark in Haiti. The statue survived the earthquake, but instead of remaining a familiar site for relaxation and play in the middle of a public plaza, as illustrated in this image, the space became full of makeshift shelters for people who lost their homes during the earthquake.)
Danticat’s author’s note, as well as the story itself, portrays the magic and promise of young children, and the tragedy of their potential cut short:
“They are everywhere, Haiti’s precious and beautiful children. You see them on rooftops—where there are rooftops—flying kites. You see them gathered in small groups on the ground—where the ground is not muddy—playing marbles. You see them link hands and run in a circle while singing the song associated with the won, the Haitian equivalent of ring-around-the-rosy. You see them twirl a bicycle wheel with a bent rope hanger, and in that act you can see the dream of one day actually driving the rest of the bike, or a motorcycle, a car, or an airplane.”
These joyful acts of play are described and illustrated on each page of Danticat’s story, as the male protagonist waits to be rescued from the rubble and envisions Haiti before the earthquake.
The illustration on the first page of the book shows the young boy after having been pulled out of the rubble, being interviewed by foreign reporters and television crew, many of whom are Caucasian. This calls attention to the international reaction that Haiti’s 2010 earthquake prompted, and particularly to the predominance of Western interventions. For older students, this could inspire a discussion about the implications of outside interventions.
After being interviewed by reporters, the protagonist tells his story through a first-person narration, describing what happened on each day that he was trapped. This format contributes to the child protagonist’s agency, despite his helpless situation, as he recounts his own experience. Additionally, this narrative timeline, starting in the present and reflecting on the past, also sets a tone of nostalgia for the rest of the story, nostalgia for a Haiti before the earthquake.
As the story progresses, readers will notice a striking juxtaposition between the bright, sunny images and the devastating contextual reality behind them. The narration uses a string of euphemisms for the terrifying experience that the unnamed protagonist endured. For example, on the second day, the protagonist and his friend, Oscar, who is trapped under the house with him play hide and seek with the protagonist’s family: “When they came close to finding us, Oscar and I popped up and yelled, ‘Alarive!’ Surprise!” The image of playing hide and seek serves as a symbol for the two boys who had to scream and yell waiting and hoping for rescue workers to find them, and for their family who was frantically searching. On the sixth day, the protagonist runs and plays in the rain with his sister catching rain water in his mouth; in the real world, catching trickles of rain water while trapped enabled him to survive eight days without food or water. These euphemisms and symbols not only add sophistication to the narration, but may also help young readers and students ease into these more difficult topics.
Ultimately, Danticat’s unnamed protagonist represents all of Haiti’s children who were affected by the earthquake. Her first-person narration through the perspective of a child also shows the infinite hope and magic of a child’s imagination.
Although this book is best for grades K-3, many of its topics, themes and narrative devices could be interesting for older students as well.
For those of you interested in using this book in the classroom, here are some additional resources:
- Expeditionary Learning Grade 5 lesson plan, Comparing and Contrasting Literature about Natural Disasters: Eight Days and Dark Water Rising
- Expeditionary Learning Grade 5 lesson plan, Reading Literature about Natural Disasters:
- Inferring about Human Impact through an Analysis of Eight Days: A Story of Haiti
- Expeditionary Learning lesson plan, Analyzing Images and Language: Inferring about the Natural Disaster in Eight Days
For those interested in learning more about Haiti’s 2010 earthquake, and how to teach Haiti in the classroom, here are some additional resources:
- Oxfam Education overview of lesson plans for ages 7-11, Stories from Haiti for 7-11 year olds: Teachers’ Overview
- Oxfam Education lesson plans for ages 7-11, Stories from Haiti for 7-11 years, including links for up to twelve different lessons on Haiti
- Oxfam Education overview of lesson plans for ages 11-14, Stories from Haiti for 11-14 year olds: Teachers’ Overview
- Oxfam Education lesson plans for ages 11-14, Stories from Haiti for 11-14 years, including links for up to twelve different lessons on Haiti
- Oxfam Education resource on poverty and geography in Haiti, Further information for teachers: poverty and geography
- Oxfam Education resource on Haitian history, Further background information for teachers: history
Stay tuned for more wonderful books about Haiti!
Images modified from Eight Days: A Story of Haiti: pages 11, 15, and 17