When the global education organization Room to Read launched its literacy project in Southwest Florida, it was both an exciting development and an indicator of a sobering reality. Room to Read benefits children in 21 countries, publishing and distributing culturally relevant local-language books and providing literacy interventions in historically low-income communities. In Collier County, findings from a landscape analysis conducted by Room to Read showed that the local Haitian Creole population confronted a dramatic lack of appropriate children’s literature. In response, Room to Read will publish and distribute a collection of bilingual books written in English and Haitian Creole by native authors across the U.S. and Haiti.
The titles will be distributed in the fall of 2023 in Collier County. Room to Read’s partnership with Future Ready Collier and its collective impact network will be vital to ensure the books are shared with children throughout the community.
History of Haitian Creole Language
There are many reasons why there are so few Haitian Creole children’s books available. Some related to the nature of the language itself, which developed during the 17th and 18th centuries but was only designated an official language of Haiti in 1987, even though 95% of Haitians use it as their primary language. Within that context, there is less expertise in children’s literature about correct translation, and few native-speaking authors publish in Haitian Creole. Further complicating literacy with a focus on Haitian Creole, French is still the dominant official language in Haiti, so Haitian Creole is not frequently emphasized in schools. While it is common in spoken language throughout Haitian communities, it has received much less attention in written publications.
Lack of Haitian Creole Books in Collier County Libraries
Across Collier County Public Schools, approximately 6% of the district’s 50,000 students claim Haitian Creole as their first language spoken at home. According to Room to Read’s publishing landscape analysis, there is a dire lack of commercially available Haitian-Creole children’s books in the market, making it nearly impossible for libraries and educational and child-based agencies to offer books that are relevant and culturally representative of the Haitian community. In fact, the 4 public library branches that most represent the over 10,000 Haitian residents of Collier County reported having only 6 Haitian Creole books in circulation. Library branches are eager to meet the needs of the community by providing more books in Haitian Creole.
Room to Read’s Focus on Literacy
Room to Read is a leading advocate for the importance of culturally and linguistically appropriate books in supporting children’s literacy. Young readers who have access to books in their own primary language will be more likely to learn to read and write fluently. English language learners will have an easier time with English acquisition when they have bilingual reading material available (English and their native language). This results in children having greater confidence in their ability to read, and a higher likelihood to develop the habit of reading. Children who are excited to learn to read may secondarily inspire a love of reading with other members of their household, from younger siblings to parents and grandparents. Literacy, once introduced in a positive light, is known to be shared within families. There is also a benefit for children who are not Haitian Creole speakers, in that they are exposed to new languages and cultures, and will be better able to connect with their friends and classmates.
To ensure the books in its forthcoming Haitian Creole collection will be the most beneficial, Room to Read has taken multiple steps. The organization engaged the services of an MIT-based researcher to review all the materials. Each book is written and illustrated by people from Haiti or with Haitian ancestry. Topics are pertinent to the Haitian Creole population and will be relatable to children reading them. Content relatability can drive young readers to feel motivated to work on their reading skills. Working hand-in-hand with EducaVision, Room to Read’s partner publishers with expertise in Haitian Creole titles, will also help ensure consistency in language, appropriateness of the content, and meaningful distribution.
The Haitian Creole book collection is only one element of Room to Read’s work in Southwest Florida. Already in its short history in Collier County, Room to Read helped facilitate family literacy workshops in English and Spanish. Local education-focused nonprofits including Guadalupe Center, Grace Place for Children and Families, and Child’s Path, all members of Future Ready Collier’s network, are currently or plan to be implementing these workshops. In addition, a summer literacy program will be piloted this summer.
As a convening entity, Future Ready Collier has been able to enhance Room to Read’s efforts, bringing together the organizations in Collier County that have direct knowledge of and access to the people who need these support services. The work of Future Ready Collier, and Room to Read, continues to demonstrate that the biggest effect is often achieved through shared effort. In this case, an illustrated children’s book, developed with care and thoughtfully shared, could change a life.
ANSANM: The Haitian Creole children’s book collection was made possible by The Kapnick Foundation and is dedicated to children who are discovering the joy of reading so it may enrich their lives.