The story of revolution leader Toussaint L’Ouverture of St. Domingue (now Haiti).The island now known as Haiti was once a French colony called St. Domingue, where white plantation owners forced hundreds of thousands of African slaves to farm sugar cane. Toussaint L’Ouverture was one of those slaves . . . but not for long. The day would come when L’Ouverture would lead his island’s slaves into a revolution for freedom, and his efforts would influence the course of world history.
- ISBN: 9780618605705
- Author: Rockwell, Anne
- Published: 2009, Houghton Mifflin Books for Children
- Themes: freedom, Islands, Revolution, Slaves and slavery, world history
- Descriptors: Biography - Autobiography- Memoir, Haiti, Intermediate (ages 9-14)
- No. of pages: 80
One thought on “Open The Door To Liberty”
Unlike Kristy, my partner for My Take Your Take, I typically do not look forward to reading non-fiction texts. I like a good story, and tend to lean toward historical fiction, realistic fiction and other types of genres that can portray a good story. When I see an illustrated informational text I am reminded of the types of dry and boring books that were part of my elementary aged school days where we were encouraged to read a biography in order to understand the particular time period being studied in school. So, I do not have a strong sense of history from my schooling, but have come to discover this genre through the powerful books that open doors of historical time periods. Open the Door to Liberty: A biography of Toussaint L’Ouverture leads the reader through the life of a “freedom fighter” in St. Domingue (present day Haiti) at the turn of the late 18th & early 19th centuries. The story outlines the struggles towards the independence of Haitians (many of whom were enslaved) from France.
The author utilizes forthright language to convey the serious nature of the topics being descried. She doesn’t sugar coat or assuage the reader to believe the inhumanity to others is any less then horrific. This is similar to what children may experience in reading Gary Paulson’s Night John or Mildred Taylor’s books on life in the depression era such as Roll of Thunder, Mississippi Bridge, and Let the Circle be Unbroken.
Agreed. All of these books use language, and in L’Ouverture the illustrations too, not as a sensational way to attract the attention of the reader, but as a way to portray the heaviness, violence and anger of the issues presented.
For example on page 20 of this text, there is very graphic illustration showing Dessalines (another Haitian General) killing a man with a bayonet as his wife held him. L’Ouverture tries to hold him back because he did not want to kill for killing sake.
Why didn’t I know about L’Ouverture in our US history books? It seems that the Louisiana Purchase occurred because Napoleon needed money to capture L’Ouverture. If this didn’t happen, the entire western United States might be speaking French today.
But it was in the history books; it was there is one sentence (OK maybe a paragraph) about the interactions between L’Ouverture, Napoleon and their impact on the United States. The author does a great job of positioning the reader within a historical context. She bookends US history and positions points of historical events that might be common to a more global audience between France, St. Domingue, and the United States. She also does a little nod to historians; by reminding the reader that this is a nonfiction book in particular she mentions Historians don’t know why some particular events happened. Which reminds the reader that history is based on a series of questions and interpretations – not on a series of names and dates to know. I think this story is complicated by how we share historical knowledge and information. From a historical perspective we often talk about that history is written by the victors; but in the case of Haitian history it is through oral storying, and not in the traditional written history. If the language by which your history is being shared is not common to a larger audience, as in this case of the Haitian’s French Creole language, the stories stay very local until such a time and when resources are available that it can be disseminated globally.
Rockwell does a nice job presenting L’Ouverture as a 3 dimensional character. I am not sure if we see those enough in children’s biographies, especially in global characters. She presents L’Ouverture’s stories as one in which he evolves and changes as the context and time in which he lived changes. For example, he is born into slavery, then becomes a soldier in the French Army, but then goes against the French army. This shows how people’s actions change over time.
One of my favorite parts that represent history from another viewpoint is the connection Haiti had with the French Revolutionaries of that same time period of fighting against Napoleon. L’Ouverture is fighting against the French armies for the first time and these soldiers attract yellow fever that the Haitians are not susceptible to. The French soldiers are all huddled in a room trying to fight off fever and they hear the voices of the Revolutionary song Marseillaise. At that point in the book I could hear the revolutionaries from the musical “Les Mis” singing “Do you hear in the countryside the roar of those ferocious soldiers they’re coming right into their arms to cut the throats of your sons and woman….” Knowing a little bit more about the French Revolutionary War made this event in the book more powerful for me.
It sent chills down my back when I read it. Does it matter how people know the story to make it impactful or portray a character as a Revolutionist? Following this book, I was in Port of Prince talking to a 4th grader, Jack, right after Dessalines Day. I asked Jack why do you celebrate this day? He said “because he is revolutionary and you’re revolutionary if you’re famous.” But in fact across time and place there are so many people who have done revolutionary things that we would not define as famous, Does it make their contributions any more less significant because of who knows his story or not?