Saludos, todos! This week’s featured book is Running the Road to ABC, written by Haitian author Denizé Lauture and illustrated by Reynold Ruffins. With stunning illustrations and compelling lyrical prose, this wonderful picture book tells the story of six Haitian children and the miles they travel to get to school. In doing so, Lauture’s tale takes readers on a visual and poetic journey of Haiti’s various landscapes, both geographical and social. While exposing some of the present-day hardships in Haiti, such as running barefoot over rough terrain to get to school, Lauture proudly depicts values such as strength, determination, and a love of learning.
Lauture introduces his book by dedicating it “To all children who, smiling and laughing,/ laughing and singing,/ singing and smiling,/ stand tall at the golden thresholds of their lives/ and welcome learning and teaching,/ and teaching and learning,/ as the two most endearing experiences in life.” A love and dedication to learning is certainly at the crux of this tale. As Lauture openly embraces the beauty in teaching and learning, his lovely, undulating prose is in itself didactic. Throughout the tale Lauture makes ample use of repetition and symmetrical sentence structures (such as “learning and teaching,/ and teaching and learning”), which can help young readers remember new vocabulary, keep up with the story, and witness the flexibility and playfulness of words. In addition, his long, flowing sentences tend to continue on and on without punctuation, reflecting the long and persistent, yet melodically joyful journey of the schoolchildren. Moreover, the lack of punctuation may reflect the cadence of Haitian Creole, which is generally not a written language. As a result, Lauture’s prose suggests a melody that would make the story perfect for reading out loud—a treat for listeners, and a celebration of Haiti’s rich oral tradition.
The children leave for school at dawn before the sun rises. They run through villages and farmlands and pass by other community members waking up and starting their day. As they travel they rely on the creeping sunlight to give them a sense of time: “When they reach the main road, they all turn their sweaty necks and glance back. If the sun is still asleep, all of them smile, and keep the pace. But if they notice that the sky, and the hillcrests, and the treetops being to take the color of honey, they quicken the pace. Sunlight and shade are their only clocks.” When the kids injure their bare feet on rocks, they heal their injuries themselves using different leaves, plants and soil. As the kids journey along, readers will notice the way the schoolchildren depend on and interact with the natural environment.
The story ends with the children finally arriving at school. The narration gives readers a sense of wholeness and completion, not just to conclude the story, but also to evoke the necessary and integral part that education plays in the lives of children:
And up and down every day, morning noon evening star, morning star evening moon, running left and turning right, counting one and counting two, learning A and learning B, a hum today, a song tomorrow, they gaze at the heavens, rise before the sun, sail with the moon, and dream of stars to read and write and write and read each night and each morning, each morning and each noon, each noon and each day one more letter and one more sound, one more sound and one more word, one more word and one more line, one more line and one more page of their little songs…
Through Lauture’s prose, the process of going to school seems to be integrated with the natural environment, essential to daily life in Haiti. In addition, the sometimes tiring sensation associated with his long, breathless sentences reflects the incessant effort and toil of these children who go to such great lengths to arrive at school.
Moreover, Lauture refers to each child by their individual name, but also repeats “all are schoolchildren” multiple times throughout the story. In doing so, Lauture calls attention to a child’s right to education, a right just as fundamental as any other. According to a study run by The World Bank, “More than 200,000 children from Haiti remain out of school and several are too old for their grade level.” Additionally, “Most schools ask for tuition fees, a barrier for many.” According to USAID, “Surveys conducted by the UNDP indicate that Haitians who are 25 years and older received on average only 4.9 years of education and only 29 percent attended secondary school.” Lauture incorporates education for children into a tableau of Haitian life in order to emphasize its importance. This story can, thus, be read as a call for better school systems in Haiti, as well as a sincere portrait of a child’s love of education. Ultimately, education is the thread that weaves all other parts of life together.
This book’s wonderful way of emphasizing education could inspire a variety of lesson plans on education around the world, or education in the lives of students. As noted by Social Justice Literature for the Elementary Classroom, this book could inspire a lesson plan or discussion on the varying school systems from country to country, or the lack of free, public education in other parts of the world:
This book could be part of a social justice unit but it could also be integrated into a social studies unit. The students could examine the school and education systems in other cultures and explore the sometimes stark differences. The students could look at the conditions and environments of other schools. This book falls into the domains of social justice education because its major themes are education and Haiti. The book is also a great segue into a discussion about the value, role, and accessibility of education in different countries.
Educators could also encourage kids to talk about their own experiences coming to school and why coming to school and learning is important to them. In addition, educators could ask kids to point out any plants, animals, or crops that are unfamiliar to them, as well as any other unfamiliar scenes, such as “donkeys bent under too-heavy loads.” This book provides a beautiful panorama of Haitian life, which could be used as an opportunity to compare and contrast differences and similarities between Haiti and the U.S. or maybe even Haiti and other parts of Latin America that students are familiar with. It could also provide the opportunity for students to reflect on their own daily lives in comparison and contrast with those of the children in the book. Focusing on elements of compare and contrast (with a Venn diagram, or other model) could foster cultural awareness while instilling an understanding of differences.
For those of you looking to use this book in the classroom, here are some additional resources:
- Palm Beach Schools Haitian/Haitian American Curriculum – Second Grade Language Arts Lesson Plan Running the Road to ABC
- Play on Words Teach Diversity, Lesson Plans for Running the Road to ABC
- The Power of Education Foundation, K-5 art-based lesson plan on teaching picture books written and illustrated by Haitian authors/artists. Featured books include Running the Road to A B C.
- Casey Roehrich Multicultural Lesson Plan on teaching Haitian history and art, incorporates Running the Road to A B C
For those of you interested in general lesson plans on teaching themes of Haiti or the Caribbean in the classroom, here are some additional resources:
- University of Florida, grades 3-12 lesson plan on Mapping the Caribbean
- Digital Library of the Caribbean’s list of featured lesson plans on teaching about the Caribbean in the classroom. Lesson plans are for a variety of age groups and touch upon various Caribbean cultures, including several lesson plans on Haiti. Common themes include oral tradition and other forms of cultural heritage, to dictatorships, genocides and other themes of history, politics and social justice.
Stay tuned for more amazing books on Haiti!