Sitting in a canopy in Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, 14 second graders read aloud from a book they illustrated and wrote themselves, titled Through the Eyes of My Haitian Friend.
These young writers, who are students at W.J. Bryan Elementary Museum Magnet School in North Miami, were eager to speak about the process it took to create the book. Mondy Robert, 8, one of several student Haitian “ambassadors”, said that she enjoyed teaching her classmates about Haitian culture.
“I liked doing the book because I like showing my friends more about Haiti and what Haiti is about,” said Robert, who was 7 years old when she helped write the book.
The story follows two friends — Anie Joseph, who is Haitian, and Kevin, who is American.
Kevin goes to visit Anie Joseph at her home and learns about Haitian culture in the process. The story takes place in Miami and explains what one would experience in a Haitian home. Mondy said her favorite part of the story is when Anie Joseph welcomes Kevin into her home.
The idea to write the book came from the elementary school’s magnet teacher, Rosemarie Wolfson. Since the elementary school’s student body is almost 50 percent Haitian, Wolfson thought it was a good idea for the students to write the book and learn about Haitian culture.
“We want to embrace diversity and children are so innocent and free. They’re so accepting,” said Wolfson.
The school, which has a museum magnet program, called their partners at the Haitian Heritage museum to bring in artifacts and artwork to help inspire the students writing. Anna Rodriguez, a director from the museum, came to the reading at Fairchild Garden last month and spoke to the audience about the partnership.
“The Haitian Heritage museum and museum magnet program is a way to incorporate not only Haitian culture and Haitian history in an academic way but also to incorporate it in a fun learning way for the kids,” said Rodriguez.
The Haitian Heritage museum is excited about the partnership. They were the ones who came up with the idea to appoint Haitian students as ambassadors and serve as consultants for the book. The students clarified terms for their classmates and explained what life is like as Haitian Americans.
The Nov. 9 book reading at Fairchild Botanical Gardens was in the works for months. The students were a part of the Fairchild Ramble, the botanical gardens annual celebration of nature and culture. Wolfson said the partnership with Fairchild was ideal because the students used natural organic material to create the original book, including palm wood, sea dollar shells and cotton fabric.
The Fairchild reading was the first public reading of the book the students had done. They will have another reading on Jan. 13th at Book & Books in Coral Gables, who also sells copies of the $20 book. Their book was also one of four children’s books chosen to be read during the Miami Book Fair International.
After Wolfson explained the book-making process, she announced the students one by one to the dozens of people in the audience at Fairchild. Each of them proudly stood up as their names were called. The class is culturally diverse, with students from Cuba, Bangladesh, Bahamas, Vietnam, and Columbia. Their former first grade teacher, Gerry Stattery, said it was so much fun to teach a class that she hated to see them leave her at the end of the last school year.
“It was like the United Nations in my class,” said Stattery. “We developed this idea of trying to immerse the Haitian culture and non-Haitian culture.”
Stattery reunited with the students for the Fairchild visit and accompanied them to the book reading on Nov. 9 and another the following day.
Stattery said the writing process was a collaborative effort.
The students brainstormed and voted on the ideas they wanted to put in the book.
“I think it was a great collaboration and they got to use experts and artifacts that were foreign to some of them,” said Stattery. “They learned so much about cultural heritage and sharing and they developed a since of pride in their sharing.”
Other locations the books are sold include the North Miami Museum of Contemporary Art, Haitian Heritage Museum, Fairchild Botanical Garden and History Miami. People can also order a copy of the book through the elementary school.
Even with all the new attention the students are receiving, student Cassandra Jacobs, 7, who was the only student of American descent at the event, said what she like most about the experience is what she has learned from her Haitian friends.
“I like writing the book because I wanted to learn more about my friends because most of them are from Haiti,” said Jacobs.