Resources For Teaching Haiti

By Deborah Menkart

The world has a lot to learn about Haiti. According to the Uruguayan author and historian Eduardo Galeano:

Haiti was the first country to abolish slavery. However, the most widely read encyclopedias and almost all educational textbooks attribute this honorable deed to England. It is true that one fine day the empire that had been the champion in the slave trade changed its mind about it. But abolition in Britain took place in 1807, three years after the Haitian Revolution, and it was so unconvincing that in 1832 Britain had to ban slavery again.

To start filling the gap in the textbooks and our own knowledge, I share here selected classroom resources on Haiti. For elementary school there are three picture books that can be used with lessons on the environment, homelessness, youth activism, and the little-known hero, Toussaint L’Ouverture.

The chapter books for upper elementary and middle school can be used to study the immigrant experience; added to discussions of the American Revolution, Manifest Destiny, or the Civil War and the fight against slavery; or approached as literature. For high school, I have included a range of historical and biographical works and a volume of poetry.

See the Teaching Guides for curriculum ideas and more resources. A larger list is posted online at Teaching for Change (


For news coverage on Haiti with historical analysis and grassroots perspectives on how to help, see Democracy Now!
and TransAfrica Forum (



Circles of Hope

By Karen Lynn Williams
(Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, 2005)
32 pp. $16

A young boy plants a tree in honor of his sister. The many challenges he faces introduce children to the environmental problems caused by deforestation and community efforts to replant.

Sélavi, That Is Life: A Haitian Story of Hope

By Youme Landowne
(Cinco Puntos Press, 2005)
40 pp. $17.95

Based on the true story of homeless children in Port-au-Prince who looked out for one another. Together they built a shelter and ran Radyo Timoun Children’s Radio.


Toussaint L’Ouverture: The Fight for Haiti’s Freedom

By Walter Dean Myers and Jacob Lawrence
(Simon and Schuster, 1996) 40 pp.

A biography of Toussaint L’Ouverture, who led the fight for freedom in Haiti, told in prose and illustrated with striking paintings by Jacob Lawrence. The book is out of print but worth looking for. Alternatively, students could research the life of Toussaint L’Ouverture and write their own text for the Lawrence paintings, which can be found online at


Behind the Mountains

By Edwidge Danticat
(Scholastic Paperbacks, 2004)
166 pp. $6.99

Written in diary format, this middle school chapter book describes life in Haiti in the early 1990s through the eyes of a young girl, Celiane. Drawn from the experiences of its award-winning author, the first half of this easy-to-read book is set in Haiti, where Celiane does well in school, cherishes monthly cassette tape messages from her father, and is injured in a bomb explosion on a bus while visiting family in Port-au-Prince. The second half describes her move to New York, where she feels lost in her first days at school, watches relations deteriorate between her older brother and parents, and misses her homeland as she gradually adjusts to immigrant life. Edwidge Danticat’s other novels, which explore mature and challenging topics, are recommended for high school and college students.

Taste of Salt: A Story of Modern Haiti

By Frances Temple
(HarperTeen, 2004)
192 pp. $5.99

This novel for upper elementary and middle school students is set shortly after the election of Jean-Bertrand Aristide. It tells the story of two 17-year-olds caught up in Haiti’s struggle for democracy.

Tonight, by Sea

By Frances Temple
(HarperCollins, 1996)
160 pp. $5.99

A chapter book about a young girl’s experiences in Haiti after the ouster of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Provides insights into community organizing and the reasons some people have to flee the island.


Open Gate: An Anthology of Haitian Creole Poetry

Edited by Paul Laraque and Jack Hirschman
(Curbstone Press, 2001)
240 pp. $15.95

This collection focuses on contemporary Creole poetry that reflects the struggle for human rights in Haiti. The book is divided into three sections: pioneers of modern Haitian Creole poetry, the flowering of Haitian poetry as represented by the Society of Butterflies movement, and the new generation of contemporary poets in the diaspora.


The Uses of Haiti

By Paul Farmer
(Common Courage Press, 2005)
480 pp. $24.95

Details the history of Haiti and its popular movements, the life stories of three Haitians, and an analysis of commonly held myths about Haiti. Excerpts can be used effectively at high school level with support and scaffolding.

The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L’Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution (2nd Edition)

By C. L. R. James
(Vintage, 1989)
448 pp. $16

The classic account of the Haitian Revolution of 1791-1803.

An Unbroken Agony: Haiti, from Revolution to the Kidnapping of a President

By Randall Robinson
(Basic Civitas Press, 2008)
280 pp. $16.95

The first few chapters provide a profound yet easy to read history, including an explanation of why the slave revolution was successful in Haiti and not elsewhere. Includes a personal and detailed story of the 2004 coup against Aristide.
Suggested reading level: 8th grade and up.


Rethinking Columbus: The Next 500 Years

Edited by Bill Bigelow and Bob Peterson
(Rethinking Schools, 1998)
189 pp. $12.95

The European invasion of the Americas—which started on the island of Hispaniola (Haiti and the Dominican Republic)—is one key place to include Haiti in the curriculum. This guide provides essays, poems, interviews, historical vignettes, and lesson plans to reevaluate the Columbus myth and issues of indigenous rights. After the fall of the Duvalier dictatorship in 1987, Haitians toppled the Columbus statue in Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince.

Rethinking Globalization: Teaching for Justice in an Unjust World

Edited by Bill Bigelow and Bob Peterson
(Rethinking Schools, 2002)
402 pp. $18.95

A collection of background readings on critical global issues and interactive lessons for grades 4-12. Many of the lessons can be used to introduce the global economic policies and practices that have contributed to the current political and economic conditions in Haiti. A student-friendly essay by Jean-Bertrand Aristide evaluates Haiti’s place in the global economy.

Caribbean Connections Series

(Teaching for Change)
The books in this series provide readings that have been selected for middle and high school students on the history and culture of the Caribbean (including Haiti) and on Caribbean life in the United States. An additional booklet, Teaching About Haiti, is available as a pdf from

Haiti Action Committee

News and analysis of the situation in Haiti. Hidden from the Headlines: The U.S. War Against Haiti is a booklet that describes the role of the United States in Haiti, with a focus on the past decade. Available online at Will Not Forget: The Achievements of Lavalas in Haiti is available as a pdf at


Haiti: The Politics of Rebuilding

By Avi Lewis
(Al Jazeera English TV, 2010)
45 min.

Viewable for free online; DVD price $30.
As pledges of billions of dollars of international aid and investment are made, debates over the vision of a new Haiti are underway. Al Jazeera journalist Lewis explores the politics of rebuilding the shattered country. http.// rebuilding_a.

Makonnen Fos Nou/Weaving Our Strength

(Lambi Fund of Haiti) 18 min.

Weaving Our Strength is an online film about grassroots economic development projects. A narrative by Josette Perard, the Lambi Fund for Haiti director, sets the projects in a larger context. Available at:

Poto Mitan: Haitian Women, Pillars of the Global Economy

(Tèt Ansanm Productions)
50 min. $79.95

In this film narrated by Edwidge Danticat, five Haitian women describe the impact of globalization on their lives. Poto Mitan gives an inside perspective on globalization, Haiti’s current crisis, and the resilient women challenging this system.