Fayerweather Street School student Sami Friedman-Wellisch enjoys one of the Mother Tongue Books that will be given Sunday to the Cambridge Public Library. (Photo: Matènwa Community Learning Center)

It’s impressive for someone in elementary or middle school to get a book published, let alone to see that book translated for distribution overseas and find a home on the shelves of the local library. But the Cambridge Public Library will get a set of 100 such books Sunday as part of a program to advance literacy in Haiti.

The students are participants in the “Mother Tongue Books” initiative launched in 1996 by former Cambridge Public Schools teacher Christine Low, also co-founder of the Matènwa Community Learning Center, a school serving a remote village in Haiti. Low devised the program to address low literacy rates and the lack of Creole-language reading materials in Haitian schools by asking the children to write and illustrate short stories to exchange with other kids. Their stories, reflecting a mix of imagination and local realities, get translated into the mother tongues of participating schools and distributed as multilingual library books – in English, Haitian Creole, French and Spanish.

The program encompasses 60 schools, with 40 in Haiti and a dozen in Cambridge, including Cambridgeport, Fletcher Maynard, Graham & Parks, Haggerty, Morse, Shady Hill, Tobin, Vassal Lane Upper School, Fayerweather Street School and Buckingham Browne & Nichols. It has produced titles ranging from “Under a Beautiful Mapou Tree” and “It’s Night and Wilna Needs to Poop” (from Haiti) to “The Great White Shark Is Hungry” and “The Singing Tap-Tap” (from the United States).

The system works; Massachusetts Institute of Technology linguist Michel DeGraff found that Matènwa Community Learning Center students read up to three times faster and with almost four times better comprehension than counterparts in World Bank-supported schools

Student authors will be joined by Steven Werlin, a Lexington native and educator whose recent book, “To Fool the Rain: Haiti’s Poor and their Pathway to a Better Life,” shows how Haitian women escape extreme poverty through a program implemented by the organization Fonkoze in rural communities such as Matènwa.

Sunday’s event is organized by the local nonprofit Friends of Matènwa. “Despite the bad press Haiti often receives, the complementary work of MCLC and Fonkoze illustrates the transformative change that is possible when well-designed programs work respectfully in true collaboration with local communities to address their priority needs and harness their existing potential,” Low said in a press release.


“Education & Hope for Haiti” takes place Sunday at the the Cambridge Main Library, 449 Broadway, Mid-Cambridge. The author ceremony and book talk starts at 2:15 p.m. and is free and open to the public; it is preceded by a reception at 1 p.m. starting at $60, with proceeds supporting MCLC.

This post was written from a press release.