Many years ago, in the family house in downtown Port-au-Prince, the little girl Mireille Lauture sat with neighborhood playmates on the floor of the wooden porch at her mother’s feet, mesmerized by the tales her mother spun. These stories came from her mother’s mother and mother’s grandmother, all carried through the generations in a rich Haitian oral storytelling tradition. “My mother is 93 and is the storyteller of the family!” Mireille, now–decades later, proclaims.
Mireille recounts how the stories, told in expressive Haitian Creole, had names that translate to ‘Thieves’ or ‘Best Friends.’ “My mom has a list of some 60 stories, all unique, not the typical folk tales one hears,” she says. “All have a moral or lesson learned.”
“For years, my sister Florence kept bugging me to ‘do something with these stories,’” she continued. When her mom was 90 years old, she decided to listen to Florence. It was time. In 2010, she wrote down ‘Bobo, The Sneaky Dog’ (Bobo, Chen Odasye), one of her mom’s stories, and published it in book form. Bobo is a dog pretending to be something he isn’t and is betrayed by a cat. The published book was a celebratory tribute to her mom.
This college psychology professor’s passion, thus ignited, began in earnest and four years later, she has self-published five bi-lingual Haitian Creole/English children’s books of Haitian folktales with illustrations.
Last week, Dr. Mireille Lauture found herself in Haiti, reading in Haitian Creole, two of her books. Mireille enchanted third and fourth graders at Ecole Herve Romain in Port-au-Prince’s poor, heavily earthquake-impacted Bel-Aire neighborhood. She read to them ‘Remy’s Magic Gift’ (Gade yon kado Remi jwenn) and ‘Loulou, the Brave’ (Loulou, Gason Vanyon).
“They were anxious to know how the story was going to end,” the author says of the eager students. Mireille was among the philanthropic delegation that JetBlue led to Haiti. Her daughter Victoria, a JetBlue flight attendant, stood next to her as the students sat on the edge of their seats, completely engaged.
“They were so receptive, attentive, pleased and curious! She said. “This was so worthwhile; I don’t have words. And then, giving them the books!” After the exciting story telling session, each student in three of the school’s classes received a copy of one of Mireille’s books.
Reveling in the morning spent at Ecole Herve Romain, Mireille shared, “This is the first time I’ve read the stories to children in Haitian Creole. And, JetBlue opened the door for my book to get into the hands of many underprivileged children.”
Mireille regularly reads her books at schools and churches in her local western Florida community, but always in English.
(Mireille’s reading was such a hit that later that day, she also read and gave books to children at Grace International School in the countryside. In all, 120 of Mireille’s books were given, 50 donated by JetBlue and 70 by online contributors who bought the books for distribution.)
JetBlue also donated three laptops and other books to Ecole Herve Romain, a school of 331 students that opened in 2007, started by the U.S.-based Edeyo Foundation. For the author, who had not returned to her home country in more than 10 years, reading at Edeyo’s school was a dream come true.
Meanwhile, Mireille Lauture is considering which of her mom’s stories is the next she will write and publish. Those in print can be purchased online.
At Ecole Herve Romain, the author’s daughter Victoria recalls watching a 10-year-old received the book, “She looked into the book and proclaimed in Creole, ‘It’s brand new!’ And then gently, she took the book with its shiny colorful cover and lovingly held it to her cheek.”