¡Mira Look!: Sélavi / That is Life: A Haitian Story of Hope

Children's Book Review: Sélavi / That is Life: A Haitian Story of Hope by Youme | Vamos a LeerSaludos, todos! Our featured book for this week is Sélavi / That is Life: A Haitian Story of Hope, written and illustrated by Youme. This creative non-fiction book tells the story of young orphan children living in Haiti. Left parent-less due to fighting, violence, and poverty, these children band together and become a family of their own. This beautiful tale of love, compassion and goodwill narrates the real-life story of an orphan boy, Sélavi, and other children like him who created their own orphanage, extending a hand to all those other children in need. Eventually these same orphaned children began a radio show called Radyo Timoun, where they, to this day, advocate for children’s rights.

At the back of the book is an essay written by Edwidge Danticat, one of the most prominent and prolific contemporary Haitian writers, sharing some personal experiences and historical context to frame Youme’s story. As many of you know, we frequently feature Danticat’s books on our blog. In this particular essay, she notes that “My birthplace, Haiti, is a land of incredible beauty, but for many, it is also a place of great sadness.” Youme’s tale does a lovely job of embodying these two dualities—the laments of many of Haiti’s children, as well as their inspiring courage, hope and beauty.

selavi 2Danticat also shares some historical facts: “In 1804, the slaves (of Haiti) revolted and won their independence, making Haiti the first black republic in the Western Hemisphere. Along with the American Revolution, Haiti’s was the only successful rebellion in North America.” Danticat’s essay continues with additional information on both Haiti’s history and contemporary Haiti, contributing a valuable component to this story and especially to the use of this story in the classroom. Finally, Danticat’s essay concludes with one final wish: “Being a child of Haiti myself, I can only hope that Sélavi’s story will be repeated in the lives of many other children, among them future writers, radio and television journalists, who will continue to tell—and show—their stories in such moving and powerful ways that the rest of the world will no longer be able to neglect them.” Youme’s story is one attempt at elevating and drawing attention to these children’s powerful stories. Continue reading


¡Mira Look!: Eight Days, A Story of Haiti

eight days coverSaludos, 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. Continue reading

¡Mira Look!: Mama’s Nightingale: A Story of Immigration and Separation

Children's Book Review: Mama's Nightingale by Edwidge Danticat | Vamos a LeerSaludos, todos, and welcome back to our weekly book reviews! Now that we have all had some time to rest during the holidays, we are ready to delve into the spring semester with an especially powerful January theme: civil rights. Throughout the month we will focus on books about child activists and the ways in which young children can make a difference in the world. These books are inspiring to say the least, and will motivate any reader of any age to stand up for a cause that they believe in. Additionally, these books empower children and adolescents, reinforcing many of our values and objectives here at Vamos a Leer.

This week I will be reviewing Mama’s Nightingale: A Story of Immigration and Separation, written by Edwidge Danticat and illustrated by Leslie Staub. This book, best for ages 5-8, tells the story of a Haitian, immigrant family in the U.S. and a young girl who, amidst pain and separation, finds solace in her mother’s tales. As the protagonist overcomes some difficult challenges, she also learns to recognize the power of her own words.

Children's Book Review: Mama's Nightingale by Edwidge Danticat | Vamos a LeerThe story centers on Saya, who is struggling with the separation from her mother, who has just been sent to “Sunshine Correctional” for not having “the right papers”. The name of the prison where Saya’s mom is being held reflects the practice of sugar-coating the real traumas that immigration laws and the separation of families inflict. In Danticat’s Author’s Note at the back of the book, she explains how this story is largely inspired by her own experiences as a child in Haiti dealing with the trauma of separation from her parents who moved to the U.S. Her parents tried to send for her and her brother, but could never succeed for they lacked “the right papers”. Danticat explains that she was always fascinated by “the idea of having the right papers” and how this abstract platitude weighed on many of her childhood memories: “As children in Haiti, my brother and I sometimes played writing games, making up passports, visas, and other documents that might one day reunite us with our parents.” Additionally, Danticat writes, “According to the Unites States’ Enforcement (ICE), the people Saya refers to as the immigration police, over 70,000 parents of American-born children have been jailed and deported in recent years. This book is dedicated to those children, who, like Saya, are dreaming of the day when their mother, or father, or both parents, will come home.” Danticat recreates her own childhood memories while infusing the story with elements of action, hope and change.
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World Wide Web: Edwidge Danticat

According to our blog’s statistics, our most popular posts and resources are specific to authors or novels that we’ve featured in our book group.  Edwidge Danticat is at the top of that list of most searched for authors.  So for the world wide web post today, I thought I’d highlight some interesting online resources on Danticat.  For those of you not familiar with Danticat, she is the award winning Haitian-American author of Krik? Krak!; Breath, Eyes, Memory; The Farming of Bones; Brother, I’m Dying; and Create Dangerously, among other titles.

One of the best places to get information about Danticat is her facebook page.  The page isn’t maintained by Danticat, but by her publisher, so it has all kinds of information on new publications, speaking engagements, interviews, etc.  As so many of our students use facebook regularly, this might be a great place to send them for research done outside of class.

Danticat has also spoken a great deal on a variety of topics, and many of these are available online. I’ve shared a few that I’ve found below. I hope they are both interesting and helpful to you!

If you come across any other resources, please feel free to share in the comments section below!

Book Review: Krik? Krak!

"Krik? Krak!," written by Edwidge Danticat.There is no question that Krik? Krak!’s short stories are gritty.  Danticat doesn’t hold back any punches as she gives us a glimpse into the reality of Haitian life through the nine short stories included here.  Her prose is both beautiful and simple—it’s part of the genius of her work.  The clarity and subtlety of her writing stands in stark contrast to the heaviness of what her stories share. Rarely can an author translate such depths of emotion and paint such lasting images, much less in the span of a short story, as Danticat does.

The power of these stories is found in their examination of the lives of ordinary Haitians trying to survive the brutality of both of the Duvalier regimes.  Taking place in Port au Prince, the fictional Ville Rose, and New York City, the majority of her stories focus on the lives of individual women. They force us to acknowledge both the plight and the unending strength of these Haitian women. They are a testament both to the survival and the depravity of the human spirit. Poverty, hunger, corruption, and torture are depicted alongside resiliency, faith, dignity, and hope. As we become familiar with Danticat’s characters, moved and pained by the seemingly increasing distance between their hopes and their lived reality, we are forced to realize that it is the actions of other humans that have created such painful experiences.  Not all of Danticat’s characters survive; in fact, many do not.  But what continues to remain is the spirit of hope, the determination to hold on to what it really means to be Haitian, even after one has escaped to the United States. Quite creatively, Danticat weaves a more circular connection among the female characters of her stories, alluding to related lineages.  While there are connections among the stories through references to other characters or events, each story can stand on its own, making it easy for a teacher to pick and choose which stories would be most appropriate for his or her class. Continue reading

Our Next Good Read. . .Krik! Krak!

Join us May 7th at Bookworks from 5:00-7:00 to discuss our next book.  We are reading Krik! Krak! by Edwidge Danticat.   It’s quite a moving set of short stories, described in the following:   “When Haitians tell a story, they say “Krik?” and the eager listeners answer “Krak!” In Krik? Krak! In her second novel, Edwidge Danticat establishes herself as the latest heir to that narrative tradition with nine stories that encompass both the cruelties and the high ideals of Haitian life. They tell of women who continue loving behind prison walls and in the face of unfathomable loss; of a people who resist the brutality of their rulers through the powers of imagination. The result is a collection that outrages, saddens, and transports the reader with its sheer beauty” (Amazon.com).

We hope to see you there! We’re looking forward to hearing what you think about Danticat’s work!

Thanks so much to the wonderful group of ladies who joined us last night for our April discussion of The Surrender Tree!!  If you couldn’t make it to the book group, be sure to let us know what you thought about The Surrender Tree by commenting on a post.  We want to hear your thoughts too!