LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:
It has been nine months since a massive earthquake struck Haiti and killed more than 230,000 people. Renowned Haitian-born author Edwidge Danticat lost loved ones in that devastating quake. And she's written a new children's book that tells the story of a seven-year-old boy named Junior, who was buried in the rubble of his home and found alive days later.
Edwidge Danticat, welcome to the program.
Ms. EDWIDGE DANTICAT (Author, "Eight Days: A Story of Haiti): Thank you so much for having me.
WERTHEIMER: First of all, I wonder about Junior's story. Is that a real story?
Ms. DANTICAT: It's derived from many real stories. In my own family, we had -we lost a little boy, a 10-year-old, who had siblings who were also in the rubble. And I remembered when the earthquake first happened, my five-year-old -my husband's mother was in Haiti at the time - and she kept asking us about her. And she - eventually she blurted out a question like: Is Grandma under her house?
WERTHEIMER: So did you begin writing it with the idea of trying to explain this ordeal to your five-year-old?
Ms. DANTICAT: Absolutely, because she had a lot of questions and we were so wrapped up and so worried about family members that we weren't filtering as much. And she had some very direct questions, as children tend to. And so I wrote this story to try and to explain to her what had happened. But also to find a kind of hopeful moment in it so that it wasn't, at least to a little child, all devastation.
WERTHEIMER: You begin the book with Junior's rescue - which is eight days after the earthquake. So when we open the book we know right away that Junior is alive. But then he describes what he did during those eight days. And I wonder if you could just begin by reading Junior's account of the first day.
Ms. DANTICAT: On the first day I flew my kite. And my best friend, Oscar, who was with me when my house fell, flew his kite too. It was a windy day and our kites went high up into the sky. Later, Oscar and I started a game of marbles. We invited all the kids in the neighborhood to play with us. It was the biggest game of marbles ever played in our neighborhood, in the entire country, in the entire world.
WERTHEIMER: And obviously he's imagining that.
Ms. DANTICAT: Yes. He imagines that day and all the days that follow. But also, there are echoes from his life, you know, moments from his past, also moments with his sister and his mother and father, and his friend Oscar.
So it's a mix of imagination, but also memory. Because one of the things that I kept wondering about the children - what kept them still because I have two small children and they don't stay very still very long. And I'd even asked the pediatrician, my pediatrician, and she said, you know, that children dont panic as much. And I was wondering what resources they would pull on, and that's how I came to this use of imagination for Junior.
WERTHEIMER: I still would think that even though we know that he survived, and that he had these kind of coping mechanisms of sort of recreating memories, as he tried to get through each day, I would still think this story would be very frightening for children.
Why did you think that this was a story that you could tell kids? Who is the story really intended for?
Ms. DANTICAT: Well, it's intended for kids - maybe not very young kids. I've read it to my daughter in the early version and completed version, and I've read it to some children in Haiti. And what I've seen when I've read it to different children is that a conversation begins, and we start talking openly about sad things - not always an earthquake, but other things that sadden children.
But it's also a hopeful story, because all children play, all children dream, and that's what is at the core of the story.
WERTHEIMER: There is a very sad - I mean I suppose the whole thing is very sad if you're thinking in terms of this poor little kid, down in the middle of darkness and not being able think whether anyone is going to find him or not -but then there is the story of the fifth day, which is about his playmate, Oscar, who was over at his house when the earthquake hit. Thats on the fifth day.
Ms. DANTICAT: On the fifth day, Oscar and I went out to play soccer with some of our friends. Afterward we sat on the bench to rest. But then Oscar felt really tired and went to sleep. He never woke up. That was the day I cried.
WERTHEIMER: And the little boy was then alone.
Ms. DANTICAT: Mm-hmm. And a lot of children were in that situation. The interesting thing, when I read it to this group of children - this particular group of children in one of the camps - one of the little girls raised her hand and said, you know, come on, tell me straight, did Oscar die or not?
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. DANTICAT: And it's funny, it's sort of - especially in the midst of a tragedy like this, you know, children seeking directness and facing an adult that's trying to sort of go around it. But for a lot of these children - even Haitian-American children who are removed from what happened - there's still the reality of lost loved ones, and you can't pretend that it didn't happen.
WERTHEIMER: I want to mention the illustrations of this book. It's beautifully illustrated with very bright, colorful paintings by a man name Alix Delinois. It's a kind of joyful counterpart to the reality of this little boy. It's the vision, his imagination - the thing that is keeping him safe, I guess.
You say in an essay in the end of the book that the Haiti in these pictures is gone now.
Ms. DANTICAT: It's not completely gone. A lot of it is gone because this child lived in a city, in the city that is partially destroyed. But he's also imagining the Haiti outside of Port-au-Prince, the countryside where this child spent summers, where I spent summers.
And I think what Alix, the illustrator, does really brilliantly in this, it captures - in a way that echoes a lot of beautiful Haitian paintings - all the colors of the landscapes outside of Port-au-Prince as well.
When you live outside of the place where you were born, there is a tendency to idealize it. But whats great about memory, whats great about art, is that we can reinterpret and re-create, and hopefully dream a better world.
WERTHEIMER: Edwidge Danticat, her new book is called "Eight Days: A Story of Haiti."
Thank you very much for coming in.
Ms. DANTICAT: Thank you so much. It's been a pleasure.
WERTHEIMER: You can read an excerpt of "Eight Days" and see its colorful illustrations at our Web site, NPR.org.
This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Im Linda Wertheimer.
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
And Im Steve Inskeep.
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