Friday, March 26, 2010

Farming of Bones

Our group read "The Farming of Bones" by Edwidge Danticat. This book tells the story of the Haitian genocide that took place in the Dominican Republic in 1937 - something I had no idea existed. When people point to the Dominican Republic and say that the fact that it's so much better off than Haiti is proof that the earthquake is some sort of judgment on Haiti, I have to assume they don't know all the facts.
"The Farming of Bones" tells the story of Anabelle, a young woman who was orphaned at age eight when her parents drowned crossing the river that separated Haiti from the Dominican Republic after taking a day trip to a market there. Anabelle, stranded on the Dominican side, became a slave to a wealthy Dominican family who treated her with kindness. Their kindness would have allowed her to be fully satisfied with her life, had she not fallen in love with a poor Haitian day-laborer, who was beaten and considered sub-human by his Dominican boss. Though she didn't want to admit it, she soon was forced to see that her boyfriend's lot was the norm and her fate was the exception. As a nationalist movement spread through the Dominican Republic, Hatian communities began to be raided. Then the killings started, with Anabelle's boyfriend being an early victim. Anabelle escaped with a few close friends and survived traveling over mountains and through forests with little food and the treat of attack around every corner. She and one other member of their party survived and crossed over the river into Haiti. There Anabelle found her old village and made a life for herself, though she never married. About twenty years later, she went back to her Dominican mistress in search of answers as to what happened and why. Her mistress was just as mystified by the hate as she was. There were no good answers.
My favorite aspect of this book was that it told the story of horrible things that happened to the Haitians, but didn't present the main characters as helpless victims. Some people died, but others used their ingenuity to survive and escape. In fact, Anabelle was portrayed with a deep strength. She empowered those around her as she worked to save her people. This book shows Haitians as strong and enduring despite circumstances.
I also liked the way this book incorporated aspects of Haitian culture and life without being directly educational. It didn't come out and say, "Haitians really respect their elders," but I learned that they did from the way the characters interacted with each other. Through the book I got to see how Catholicism mixes seamlessly with their indigenous religion, how they think about birth and death, and what they value. You can tell the author, a Haitian herself, is just writing what she knows, not trying to teach or preach.
I wouldn't have elementary students read this book because it's a bit graphic, but it's a great reference for me as a teacher. I would consider giving a 5th grade class excerpts to read to give them a sense of how someone from Haiti thinks and expresses himself. This book also inspired me by showing me the value of first-hand accounts. I have Haitian friends that could come talk to my class, providing a far richer experience for them than reading an article or listening to me talk.


Trouble on Thunder Mountain by Russell Hoban and Quentin Blake

The O’Saurus family has been living on Thunder Mountain for many years. One day, they receive a letter in the mail explaining that Mr. Flatbrain of Megafright International has purchased Thunder Mountain and they must move out within 24 hours. Mr. Flatbrain wants to make the mountain flat and build a high-tech plastic mountain them park on the flat land. The dinosaurs are angry and upset, but realize they cannot retaliate with violence to get their mountain back. The animals of Thunder Mountain devise a plan and work together to show everyone how fun and exciting the old mountain is and how it is so much better than the plastic mountain with rides that Mr. Flatbrain has built. At the end of the story, Mr. Flatbrain is defeated and becomes a common worker on the dinosaur-run mountain that he wished to change.

I like this book because it takes a very real issue and portrays it in a story that seems fictional. Our country faces the problem of large corporations taking over smaller companies and land to do as they wish and as they see fit, without thinking of the consequences placed on citizens who live there. This book can help students to understand that this is done and that there are nonviolent ways to go about preventing such drastic changes in our precious land. The story shows the reader how important a close-knit community is and how it is important for community members to work together to bring about a change. When a community is faced with a hardship, they must work together to bring social justice and change through by ensuring their voice is heard.

You can find purchasing information for this book on


Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Behind the Mountains

Behind the Mountains

By: Edwidge Danticat

This book is written in the format of first person fiction in the point of view of Celiane Espérance. Through her journal entries, Celiane opens the eyes of the readers to the life of child experiencing political unrest and corruption through first hand dangers and incidents that happen to her and her family. Celiane also gives insight to the struggles and of an immigrant child both in school and in the home since she not only has to adjust to a new school & friends, but a “new father” as well. The history of Haiti is also cleverly integrated into Celiane’s entries in order to teach the readers the accurate history of Haiti and also given recognition to important people in Haitian history. Surprisingly, this book also shines a light on school violence and gang-related issues present in schools.

Danticat’s book would be of excellent use for teaching the history of Haiti and heroes of Haiti. Danticat successfully integrates accurate information on both these topics in a subtle fashion. This book could be used in literacy in order to teach point of view in writing and journal writing as well. The fact that the book is entirely written in a journal format can also encourage journal writing to students with emotional and behavioral disorders and even immigrant children in order to provide them with a channel of how to release their inner frustrations. Moy’s paintings are emphasized much in this book and could lend itself for studying and making Haitian art. This book would also be of good use for community building skills since being part of a whole community is emphasized all throughout this book and students can have a healthier understanding of the life of an immigrant classmate. Since school violence is presented when Celiane moves to Brooklyn, New York; NYC public school teachers could also use this book in order to teach students about prevention of school violence in their own communities.

Social Justice Domains:

  1. Self-love and acceptance: Yes, students learn how to value and appreciate the richness of Haiti and its people.

  2. Respect for other: Yes, student will learn how to understand and respect the cultures of others by reading a first-hand account of an immigrant child.

  3. Exploring issues of social justice: Yes, the corruption and political unrest will teach students about the oppression experienced by Haitian residents.

  4. Social movements and social change: Yes, students learn how although there was political oppression in Haiti, people still stood up for what they believed for.

  5. Taking social action: No.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Running the Road to ABC By Denize Lauture Illustrated by Reynold Ruffins

This is a short book intended for young students. It vividly and beautifully describes the long and ardous journey of six Haitian children on their way to school. The writing in this story is very rich and poetic. These children must wake up extremely early and travel a great distance in order to attend school. Yet all this does not phase the children because they are so eager and excited to learn. I enjoyed the language and writing in this book. The illustrations are extremely vibrant and each picture frame appears as an individual, beautiful oil painting. I also really like this book because it describes children who are so eager and willing to learn that they endure countless obstacles each day.

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. I would use this book to examine those issues and I would try to incorporate the student's personal school experiences. We could look at their routes to school and discuss what motivates them to come to school everyday.

For more information and to purchase the book go to:

Miyuki Daniels, Stephanie Pastrano, Maire McCormack

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Selavi, That is Life: A Haitian Story of Hope

Selavi, That is Life: A Haitian Story of Hope
Author: Youme Landowne

This book tells a story of Selavi, an orphan boy who finds himself homeless on the streets of Haiti. While living on the streets, he meets another boy named Tifre, who introduces Selavi to other homeless children who are willing to share their food and a place to sleep. Throughout the book, Selavi and his friends face many struggles, however together they overcome such challeges, through their strong determination and the help of a local church.

In the classroom:
This book can be used in many ways in a classroom. This book can be used as a read aloud to begin a unit on Haiti or a unit of the world countries. It can help segway into the conditions that some children are living in in Haiti. It is important that the students not look at Haiti in pity, but in ways to spread knowledge of these conditions. This book also can be used to try to build a community within the classroom. This book does a great job shedding light into the ideas of differences in social class and stereotypes. Not only does this book highlight the differences but it also shows that among the differences of people there are also similarities and that all people can get along. This book can help students to find things that can help them relate to each other. This book could help students look past social class as well as color of skin and typical generalizations that they may come across.

Social Justice Education:
What is unique about this book is that the later stages of social justice education are heavily discussed rather than earlier ones which we have seen so many times before in other texts. The reader is forced to delve right into the third stage of Exploring Issues of Social Justice. The first sentence ends, "leaving a small child alone in the world." The unfair conditions some children experience in Haiti are exemplified in this text. At one point each child recounts their own traumatic injustices they have experienced and the hardships they have faced. A powerful metaphor that recurs is though each child alone is a single drop of water, together they make can be a mighty river. The children work together not once but twice to take social action, the final stage of social justice education. They make the change to help save children's lives by building a place for those youngsters without homes to find refuge. Though their new dwelling is destroyed, again they come together to once more take action for social change. This time their efforts are doubled. A radio tower is built and they are able to send out a message to the public. "We will write out messages in the air where they cannot be painted out." The children not only take action but implore others to do so as well. This book is an excellent resource to use within a social justice curriculum.

To purchase and for more information:

BY: Alexis, Hanna, and Josephine

Monday, March 15, 2010

Edwidge Danticat: "Behind the Mountains" by Katie, Pin, Stela

Katie, Pin, Stela
“Behind the Mountains” by Edwidge Danticat

For more information/Purchase:,

The diary begins in October 2000, when Haiti is filled with violence and general unrest with the elections taking place and the promise of many changes. Celiane tells her own story, about life behind the mountains, far from the city and the problems there. Forced by economic circumstances to seek work in America, her father has been gone for three years and the family anticipates joining him when proper visas can be arranged. When Celiane is awarded a notebook from her teacher she decides to keep a journal of her thoughts on the events leading to her trip to America. Through Celiane’s writing we are introduced to her family and all the places that they visit, including Port Au Prince during election time, where a bomb almost kills Celiane and her mother. Their struggles in Haiti come to a close as they travel to meet father in New York. After the initial joy at the reunion, their family life starts to unravel. Celiane's brother Moy is not eager to quietly obey his father. It is freezing cold, school is difficult and lonely, and the parents work long hours. The father means well, but he frankly is out of touch with his children and how much older they are, especially his son, who now is a young man after all and not the young teenager the father left behind in Haiti so many years ago. The family finds that there are challenges to face and new struggles begin as they have to become accustomed to American life.

Behind the Mountains is set in Haiti and New York. The contrasts between the two settings and cultures are vivid and it is clear that it is difficult to find your way in a foreign country. Danticat brings her own firsthand knowledge of Haiti and immigrating to America to this story, told in diary format.

Behind the Mountains explores the themes of coming of age, family relationships, separation and reunification, as well as immigration and cultural identity.

Haiti is a country marked by its political unrest and economic depravity as a result of years of dictatorship, government corruption, and a gap between the wealthy elite and profitable cities and the poverty stricken non industrial provinces. Although fiscally poor, Haiti is a culture rich in its language, folktales, customs, and community.

After reading this novel, students can research Haiti and its history, Haitian culture, Haitian immigration. Reading this novel may help to increase student awareness at the adjustments faced by immigrants. The question of why people immigrate may be raised (people seeking opportunity vs. people forced to leave due to persecution). Students may research immigration to the US from countries other than Haiti (ex. interview family and friends about their immigration stories). Students may be asked to keep a reading journal to record their reactions to the reading and discussions of the story (details about characters, settings, themes etc). Other related topics students may research: location, economy, government, refugees, culture-shock, duality of cultures, assimilation, integration…

Friday, March 12, 2010

Sélavi - A Haitian Story of Hope

Sélavi - A Haitian Story of Hope by Youme tells the tale of a young boy named Sélavi and his Haitian friends. Sélavi is an orphan who was living on the streets in Haiti when he met TiFrè, who introduced him to several other children who were living on the streets of Port-au-Prince. After the police threaten Sélavi and his friends, Sélavi finds refuge in a church. With the help of the church members, following the belief that "together, we can be a mighty river" an orphanage is built to house children like Sélavi. Unfortunately, Sélavi and his friends face many other struggles before finding success.

Not only was the text in this book informative, but it also told an inspiring true story through the illustrations. It delivered a message that even through hard times self-pity is not the answer, and by working together anything can be accomplished.

This book could be used in the classroom for a historical and cultural study of Haiti. You could also have the students create their own radio stations. Students could role play the different characters in the story to understand the various perspectives presented. Students could convert the story into a play, and go through all the steps of scripting, acting, editing, casting, staging, etc.

Self-love and acceptance - Sélavi never blamed himself or others for his misfortunes. This teaches students that they should continue loving themselves no matter what the circumstances.

Respect for others - Even when confronted by the Police, Sélavi's behavior was respectful. More significantly, he was more respectful of the others' stories.

Exploring issues of Social Justice - This book shows the lack of legislation protecting children in Haiti.

Taking Social Action - Sélavi and the others create their own orphanage and continue through the use of media to inform others of the situation.

By Mayrovy, Sarah, and Casey