So we hop 11,505 km (it’s a long hop) from Samoa in the South Pacific to another very different island in the Caribbean Sea: Haiti.
Haiti has a rich literary history, but publishers only started taking an interest in children’s books in the late-1990s. Now there is a thriving children’s book festival (fête du livre jeunesse) held in Port-au-Prince every May. This event provides members of the public with a chance to see what is happening on the local scene as well as books for sale at a 50% discount.
Many adults in Haiti are illiterate so parents rely on schools to educate their children. But books are far and few between as Rebecca McDonald discovered when she relocated with her husband to Haiti after the 2010 earthquake. The experience of seeing classrooms with hundreds of children and no books prompted her to co-found Library For All in 2012. This nonprofit organisation aims “to provide a scalable, digital library solution to the lack of accessible books in developing countries.” At the time of writing, Library For All has active programmes in five countries, including Haiti. If you are interested in Haitian children’s or adult literature, this blog on the organisation’s website is a treasure trove of information about Haitian publishers, organisations and other resources. I was so excited to find it!
Another wonderful initiative I came across in my research is “A livres ouverts” (open-book approach) set up by Jimmy Borgella, Haitian library advocacy leader and social activist. This programme aims to inspire a love of reading and writing in children in various ways, including a national reading camp, a writing competition and a planned weekly cultural event. It operates within the VIE Jeunes organisation, also founded by Borgella.
Most of the picture books published in Haiti are in French, the main language used in administration, schools and the press. One local publishing house in particular, Editions Université Caraïbe, is seeking to redress the balance by actively seeking out and publishing children’s picture books in Haitian Creole, the language spoken by the majority of the population.
A number of Haitian children’s book writers now live in the diaspora; that is the case of both Edwidge Danticat and Dany Laferrière, whose names cropped up every time I read about Haitian picture books. Danticat was born in Haiti and spent her early childhood there; she joined her parents in New York when she was 12 and still lives in the US today. She writes in English, but her work is known for its strong Haitian themes.
Laferrière was born and raised in Haiti and worked there as a journalist before emigrating to Canada in his early-twenties. He writes exclusively in French, although some of his adult novels have been translated into English by David Homel. None of his picture books are currently available in English, which is a huge shame as the two I have read are brilliantly original with fabulous illustrations by Frédéric Normandin. So, we’re going to read one, the first in his trilogy of picture books for children, translated by me (just so I can share the story with you!)* Now I wish I’d done the same – and translated one of Kitty Crowther’s books I had earmarked – when we were in Belgium. Another time …
So here we go with my selection for Haiti. I hope you enjoy these picture books as much as I do.
Eight Days: A Story of Haiti by Edwidge Danticat, illustrated by Alix Delinois (Orchard Books, 2010)
Je suis fou de Vava by Dany Laferrière, illustrated by Frédéric Normandin (Les Editions de la Bagnole, 2013; first edition published in 2006) – title not currently available in English
Mama’s Nightingale: A Story of Immigration and Separation by Edwidge Danticat, illustrated by Leslie Staub (Dial Books for Young Readers, 2015)
*Don’t worry, I promise it won’t be Googledeegook! I have been a NAATI-accredited professional translator (French into English) since 2010.[Image: Fishing by Stephane Venne, made available under a creative commons licence; Source: flickr.com]