Sleeping in Haiti

Haiti detail© Durga Yael Bernhard

On the morning of Tuesday, January 12th, 2010, I turned on my favorite radio program and sat down to work on one of the illustrations for my forthcoming book: While You Are Sleeping: A Lift-the-Flap Book of Time Around the World.  I was painting a nighttime scene of three children sleeping in Haiti. With a collage of photographs up on my computer screen for reference, I carefully assembled a fictitious image based on visual facts.

Like all the scenes in the book, this one featured a clock, showing the time of day. But I wanted my book to teach about more than just time zones. I wanted it to convey something about what life is like in other parts of the world – how it is different, and how it’s the same.  The three Haitian children in this illustration share a tattered mattress on a floor of packed earth. They sleep in their clothes under bare walls and windows without glass. But despite a standard of living which the average reader of my book will never experience, these children have each other, and they sleep peacefully.

I was just mixing a dark grey for the shadowy hue of the wall when suddenly, a news report interrupted the morning radio program: Haiti had just been hit by a devastating earthquake. I stopped painting, and considered what would happen in an earthquake to a house such as this, built of mud and concrete. That picture would not be so pretty. Clearly, my depiction of Haiti was scarcely grim enough. Yet I’m glad it’s included in the book, among many other scenes showing children engaged in daily activities which may not be familiar to my readers.  I don’t want to shock or frighten kids with too much grim reality, but I do want to pique their curiosity and nudge their awareness.  Above all, I want them to feel the sameness of the children in the book to themselves – no matter how different their homes and routines may be.  We may live in different time zones, but we all share the same earth.  That’s why I was so pleased when While You Are Sleeping was named as a Notable Book for a Global Society by the International Reading Association; and as a Notable Book in the Field of Social Studies by the Children’s Book Council of America.

A good week to all,

D Yael

Author / Illustrator of
THE HUNGRY HAGGADAH: A Passover Story in Rhyme
THE JEWISH EYE – 2016 /5776 calendar of art
JUST LIKE ME, CLIMBING A TREE: Exploring Trees Around the World
NEVER SAY A MEAN WORD AGAIN – A Publisher’s Weekly Starred Review;
winner of the Sydney Taylor Award and National Jewish Book Council Award
THE DREIDEL THAT WOULDN’T SPIN – A Toyshop Tale of Hanukkah
WHILE YOU ARE SLEEPING – A Children’s Book Council Notable Book
GREEN BIBLE STORIES FOR CHILDREN – Nat’l Green Book Festival Notable Book
A RIDE ON MOTHER’S BACK – An American Bookseller Assoc. Pick of the List
– and more!
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