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Selavi: That is Life

Kirkus Reviews
The street children of Haiti (abandoned because their families were killed, their homes destroyed, or simply because there were too many in their households) found each other on the streets of Port-au-Prince. Through the story of a boy named Sélavi, readers learn of a shelter for such children, built and destroyed and then built again, of murals to spread the word, of a children’s radio station, Radyo Timoun, where “We will write our messages in the air where they cannot be painted out.” Beautiful illustrations using watercolor, photographs, collage, and techniques like batik make vivid Sélavi’s life. He and other are real, as Danticat’s essay indicates, and their home and the radio station may now be abandoned as Haiti surrenders to unrest. A strong message of caring for the children and for each other rings through the kinds of sorrows too many children face in the world.
Publisher's Weekly
Youme, an artist and activist, makes a powerful debut with this true story of Port-au-Prince’s street children. As one of many orphaned or homeless boys and girls in war-torn Haiti, Sélavi (so named for a Kreyòl expression he uses, meaning “that’s life”), ekes out an existence searching for scraps, doing odd jobs and avoiding the military police. Youme’s experience as a community muralist informs every picture—her work emits a streetwise sense of lyricism and urgency. The palette darkens with acts of violence, and lightens to reflect images of hope. In one spread, the police stare out at readers while scenes of murder and destruction are reflected in their black sunglasses; a motif that incorporates tanks and broken hearts frames the image.

Ultimately, Sélavi succeeds in rallying a group of adults to build an orphanage and, later, a radio station, from which a boy and his compatriots advocate for their welfare (“We will write our messages in the air where they cannot be painted out.”) The book lays out the realities, however, explaining that the children are plagued by political callousness even as “they continue to struggle.” But the book’s animating belief that people can come together as “a mighty river” of change and caring is genuinely inspiring. Photographs from the actual orphanage and an essay by Haitian author Edwidge Danticat make for a compelling closing statement. Ages 5-up.
Children's Literature
This is a true tale of children who face some of life's cruelest obstacles. It is both moving and engaging. The story of a little boy and other homeless children living on the streets in Haiti is told without pretense or flowery words. Violence, death, or poverty has left each child with no one to care. Without any family, Sélavi lives with children like himself until angry men in uniforms run them off. He flees to a church where he hears a man speaking to the people. "Alone we may be a single drop of water, but together we can be a mighty river." The truism becomes the theme for this story. Through the charity of the church people and by working together, the children eventually have a home and begin a radio station. Today the station is still staffed and operated by children and used to tell others of their plight. They have, indeed, become a mighty river.

The author displays colorful illustrations and black and white photographs of young ones who continue to benefit from the courage of the first orphans. She rounds out the picture by incorporating a concise history of the beautiful, but tumultuous Haiti. An essay by a young woman who has risen above her own humble beginnings to become a published author adds substance to the Haitian story.

This is an excellent choice not only for the intended audience, but also for anyone who cares about others.
School Library Journal
Landowne uses softly rendered, uncluttered pictures and simple text to tell the story of a homeless boy and his friends. The book opens with Selavi's evocative words, "Not so long ago and not so far away, people with guns could take a family, burn a house and disappear, leaving a small child alone in the world." He joins other children living on the streets of Port-au-Prince and helping one another survive until repressive authorities force them to seek protection at a church meeting. Even the orphanage set up to help them proves unsafe when their murals are destroyed and their new home is burned down.

Despite all the difficulties, the children continue to speak out about their needs, eventually establishing a radio station in a rebuilt orphanage. The book deals with complex issues over an extended period of time, so some story transitions are short on details. What does come through are the feelings of fear, anger, and solidarity that bind the youngsters together. A mix of full spreads and small, carefully sequenced illustrations that are varied in scale and tone helps tell the story. Photographs and lengthy endnotes from Landowne and Haitian-American author Edwidge Danticat provide valuable background information. Selavi offers a realistic view of children whose lives are sometimes disconcerting and sometimes hopeful. It will be useful in communities that serve Haitian-Americans, and libraries in which children are exploring issues of social justice.
"People with guns could take a family, burn a house and disappear, leaving a small child alone in the world." Through the story of one Haitian child, this stirring picture book puts a human face on news images and tells of young people caught up in the terror of war at home. Selavi finds family with a group of other street children. Helped by a church, they build a shelter. After "others" set fire to the building, the house is rebuilt, and the children start a radio station to reach young people. The simple watercolors show the boy alone, then the warmth of his community and the angry faces of men in uniform. In a moving afterword accompanied by her own documentary photos, Youme, as she's identified on the jacket, tells more of the story, which is based on the experience of homeless kids in Port-au-Prince. For older readers, adult writer Edwidge Danticat contributes a powerful essay about her own Haitian childhood, her country's proud history, and its desperate upheaval.
Baker & Taylor's Cats Meow
In view of recent events, this story of the struggle of Haitian ‘street’ children is especially timely and poignant. Orphaned Selavi wanders to the capital, where he is taken under wing by a group of kind children of similar circumstances. After enduring persecution and homelessness, the resourceful children proceed to create their own radio station and community safehouse. Despite, or perhaps because of the somber surroundings, the hopefulness and resilience of the children and Haitian community shine through. This relevant story of hope is not to be missed and is an excellent addition to any youth collection.
- March 1, 2010 
Midwest Book Review
Selavi is the story of a homeless child befriended by other street children living in Haiti who look out for one another by sharing food and companionship. Together they find a caring community and a voice to create a radio station run by and for children. A true story with a positive message that vividly presents the poignant difficulties street children face in daily life.
- November 1, 2004 

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