On January 12, news of Haiti’s disastrous earthquake shocked the world. International media and aid workers rushed to the country, as people across the globe witnessed the devastation through television screens and newspapers. Now, several months later, the crisis is being portrayed through a new medium—children’s books.

This fall, two picture books about the earthquake will hit bookstore shelves. Both Hope for Haiti by Jesse Joshua Watson (Putnam, Oct.) and Eight Days: A Story of Haiti by Edwidge Danticat, illustrated by Alix Delinois (Scholastic/Orchard, Sept.) come from authors with strong ties to Haiti’s struggles, and portray the disaster through the eyes and voices of children.

Susan Kochan, who edited Hope for Haiti, says that Watson’s book “covers a tragedy we hope will stay in people’s attentions, but in a kid-friendly way. Jesse focused on soccer and the joy of the game, so it’s about resilience without being preachy or dismissive of kids.”

Hope for Haiti takes place in a makeshift tent neighborhood within a soccer stadium; it tells the story of a displaced boy and his friends, whose soccer games help them believe in a promising future. Watson, who was exposed to the problems in Haiti from an early age through his father’s humanitarian work there, says that the idea for his story grew out of what he saw in the news in the days following the earthquake.

“I love soccer so much, and I saw soccer going on there with the kids, and it naturally evolved from that,” Watson says. “Initially, the inspiration was purely out of my inability to do anything else for Haiti. I don’t have any skills that can help with any immediate disaster relief or reconstruction. I just realized that creating books is what I do best, so if I could create a book to inspire kids here and help kids there, that was my best option.”

Watson, who both wrote and illustrated the book, says that the pictures were in his mind before he found the words to match them. “Before the text came out, the story was almost written through images I’d seen in the media and images I’d sketched of kids playing.” When it came time to begin the final illustrations, Watson photographed real children playing soccer and used those images as inspiration for his paintings. “When I set up model shoots, they’re like directing little films,” he explains. “I have the kids dress up and do actions I think they would do, but once the process begins I get the randomness of life, especially with kids. I’ll take hundreds of shots and draw the quirky things they do. More often than not, the interpretations of the children are much more deep and full of emotion than I could have planned if I’d had them sit just so.”

“It’s a portrait of kids, but also a portrait of a country,” says Cecilia Yung, the art director of Hope for Haiti. “This book highlights that there’s hope in some of the smallest things of life, like soccer. “I hope that [Hope for Haiti] becomes a grassroots movement in terms of raising awareness, especially among kids, about how much needs to be done after a disaster like that—not just a specific moment of outpouring, but an ongoing effort.”

In an attempt to provide such long-term assistance, Penguin and the Pearson Foundation have teamed up to support the We Give Books program, which allows children everywhere to send books to kids in Haiti by reading them for free online. Penguin will also make a donation to Save the Children’s Haiti Earthquake Children in Emergency Fund.

“First and foremost, I want this book to give inspiration to kids in situations they fear are unwinnable, here and abroad,” Watson says. “And I’d love for this book to help us retain the concern we first had when we observed the earthquake. I want to keep the focus on Haiti long enough for real, positive work to be done there.”

Survival by Imagination

Writer Edwidge Danticat also has a profound connection to Haiti, a connection that led to her write Eight Days. “I have two homes—Haiti and the United States—and I have a lot of family in Haiti, so my involvement is deeply personal,” she says.

Among Danticat’s many books for adults are Krik? Krak! a National Book Award finalist, and The Farming of Bones, an American Book Award winner. She has also written for teenagers, but Eight Days will be her first published picture book.

Danticat, who was born in Haiti, moved to the United States at the age of 12; she grew in the Bel Air neighborhood of Port-au-Prince, an area now decimated by the earthquake. She currently lives with her family in Miami, which is where she first heard news of the disaster.

“I was in the supermarket with my daughters when the earthquake started,” Danticat says. “My daughter Mira is very close to her grandmother in Haiti, and kept asking, ‘Is she okay?’ When she saw the images on TV, she began asking, ‘Is she under a house?’ I started thinking of writing a story to explain the earthquake to her.”

Danticat’s story follows Junior, a seven-year-old boy who survives being trapped in the ruins of his house by imagining the things he did with his friends and family before the earthquake.

“Some of my family, my cousins, were under the rubble for days,” Danticat says. “We had family members, from teenagers to an 18-month-old, who were rescued by neighbors, and who came out with smiles. And we would see on the news these children rescued from the rubble, who came out with their spirits so high, who were just amazing to see. I kept asking myself, how did they manage it? I have small children and they’re so restless—how did children manage to stay under there that whole time? And of course it occurred to me that one way might be their imagination.”

Ken Geist, the book’s editor, had worked with Danticat on two of her previous projects, and his thoughts went to her when the earthquake hit. “Right after the earthquake, I called Edwidge to see how her family was doing,” he says. “She mentioned that the night before she had written a story, and that’s how it started.”

“Ken carefully broached the subject of doing a book about the earthquake, and I said I had notes, and I sent him the text the next day,” Danticat recalls. “When he called me back he said, ‘Everybody’s crying here.’ ”

Geist says that when he opened Danticat’s email, he wasn’t sure what he was about to read. “The story was so moving that I feel like it sort of transcended the earthquake,” he says. He knew that the accompanying illustrations would have to capture the country’s pre-earthquake beauty, and began asking illustrators for the names of Haitian artists. Eventually author/illustrator Pat Cummings recommended Alix Delinois to Geist. “I actually contacted Alix through Facebook,” Geist says. “He took off a whole month from his job as a substitute teacher to illustrate this book. And his illustrations depict the beauty of Haiti that we want everyone to remember.”

To Danticat, Delinois’s illustrations not only reveal the brilliance of Haiti before the earthquake, but also the unconquerable ingenuity of its people. “Where there is misery in Haiti you still see so much creativity, in art and music,” she says. “And all that imagination flourishes in spite of the suffering.[Eight Days] is a celebration of a child’s imagination, but also of Haitian imagination and sense of survival.”

Some of the proceeds from Eight Days will go toward the efforts of the International Rescue Committee, an organization that, in conjunction with the Haitian group Idejen, is setting up “child-friendly spaces” where vulnerable children can take part in fun and educational activities led by trained adults. There are also plans to publish a free paperback edition of the book in Creole and distribute it to children in Haiti.

“I hope that readers will take away from this book a sense of hope, a sense of reclaimed childhood, a sense of inspiration,” Danticat says. “A child might be reading [Eight Days] and not have these particular obstacles, but they might have their own. I didn’t live through this moment in Haiti, but I was a child who survived difficult times using my imagination.”