Haiti My Country, poems by Haitian Schoolchildren, illustrated by Rogé, translated by Solange Messier published in 2014 by Fifth House
The pretty flowers of my country are to me Like pink butterflies That smile at the sun. I especially like the pink flowers! The pink ones! The charming pink flowers in my garden…
When I first heard of this book of poetry, written by Haitian schoolchildren, I imagined a series of broken images in response to the devastating 2010 earthquake.
Instead, what I discovered was in the main, a celebration of the beauty of their island home.
Poems about a “ripe mango, fresh mango, yellow mango” and the dancing Haitian trees. Poems telling of the cool shelter of a humble hut, of Haiti’s “dazzling greenery,” and the tastiness of the peppers and sweet potatoes in a peasant’s garden.
These pieces were all written prior to the earthquake, by teens at Camp Perrin, a small village in the south of Haiti. The students have been inspired largely by the landscapes of this area, as well as the welcome shelter of their thatch-roofed homes. There are splinters of sadness, but mostly an outpouring of adoration for the land and pride in their country.
In itself, that makes a rich, important contribution to our understanding of Haiti, an excellent opportunity to see its strength and beauty rather than only the twisted wreckage from natural disasters and political upheaval. I love that about this collection.
Quebecois illustrator Rogé has contributed exquisite portraits of Haitian children that turned this book into an award-winner. It’s on the New York Times Best Illustrated list for 2014. Fifteen tender, warm, soft studies of beautiful faces. Printed on full pages in the tall format of the book, they are simply ravishing.
It’s a quiet book, full of dignity, that can open our eyes and hearts to our neighbors in Haiti, and inspire our own appreciation of the natural world around us and perhaps a bit of poetry-writing, too.