by Youme Landowne. I read this beautiful little picture book while standing in the book fair at my school yesterday. Selavi is a child living on the street in Haiti. His family has been killed and his home burned. He takes the name “Selavi” which means “that is life” after making friends with another street child. He is welcomed and becomes part of a loose family of children living in a banyan tree and helping each other survive. One day the military police come and chase them all away. Selavi runs into a church and begs for help. A family there offers to take him home and make him their son, but he asks “what about my friends?”. Several adults then band together to make a home for all the children in his group. Sadly, again the military police come and burn down the house and chase the children away. They are not defeated though, and with the help of their adult friends they build another home and start a radio station to air their story.
This book is based on true stories of the street children of Haiti. Youme Landowne visited Haiti after hearing about the children’s radio station and decided to write a children’s book about it to spread the word of hope. In this book children and adults studying peace and justice issues can get inspiration from the children of Haiti and see the power of people coming together to create change. Landowne’s web page offers links and activities for families and schools. Her illustrations are brightly colored and full of life in spite of the sobering truth of the story.
While in college I visited Haiti for a three week service project. We helped to build an additional classroom building for a school and also put a roof on a new building for another school for the deaf. I have vivid memories of working long days under a sweltering sun, and of driving around Port-au-Prince standing in the back of a pick up truck with my fellow college students. We visited markets and traveled up into the cool green mountains. We visited an orphanage full to overflowing with beautiful, charming children. I fell in love with a handmade rocking chair in the iron market that was too big for me to bring home, so I bought it and donated it to the orphanage. I hope they got a lot of use out of it but I sometimes wonder who had time to sit down and rock those children with all the work they had to do. The children love to fly little kites they make themselves out of brightly colored paper. I still remember the Creole words to some of the children’s songs we learned. I almost took a job in the school we went to help build after I graduated from college, but decided to go to China instead.
Edwidge Danticat has an informative essay in the back of this book on the history of Haiti. In 1780, under French rule, Haiti was one of the wealthiest regions in the Western Hemisphere. In 1791 there was a successful slave revolt and in 1801 Haiti became the first free black democracy in the New World. Unfortunately most of the rest of the history is one of abuse of power, exploitation and economic chaos. The mahogany forests were stripped off the mountains resulting in the loss of top soil and the ruin of the agriculture needed to feed the people. More of the history is here and here. Haiti is now the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere. Selavi impresses me with the determination of the children of Haiti to build a better future by committing to work together, and I highly recommend this book.
tags: Haiti kidlit orphans street children poverty Peace justice