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author jesse joshua watson with haiti kids Author Jesse Watson in Haiti with his book Hope for Haiti. (Photo courtesy Jesse Watson)

Hope for Haiti Book Helps

Touched by tragedy, author Jesse Joshua Watson writes

By Kaj Lund Olsen | January 3 , 2011

Author Jesse Joshua Watson didn't want to write Hope for Haiti.

"I had to," he said. "I was compelled to do something, anything to help."

As an author and artist, he was at first concerned that he had nothing to offer the people of Haiti after their country was devastated by a major earthquake last January.

"I am not a doctor or carpenter and I live halfway around the world," he said. "What could I possibly do to help Haiti?"

That's when he got the idea to write a book about the earthquake that could be used as a tool to keep Haiti in the minds of parents, teachers, and kids.
His first step was to visit Haiti after the earthquake.

"I was disheartened by the scope of the poverty and chaos," he said. "At the same time, I was very encouraged by the work being done by young Haitians to better their own situation, as well as that of the nation itself."
Jesse began work on the book by sketching. As a boy, he studied the pictures in books before reading the words. Since Jesse is an author and illustrator, he can move back and forth between writing and painting the pictures.

"When I get the world of the book settled in my sketches, then I begin the manuscript," he said. "I let myself write very badly at first so I don't get caught up in spelling, grammar, and any other details that can be worked out later."

sketch and cover image from book hope for haiti
(Top) A sketch of Jean Lund Olsen made from a photograph by author/illustrator Jesse Joshua Watson. The sketch became a painting, then an illustration for the book Hope for Haiti. (Bottom) The Hope for Haiti book cover. (Photo of sketch courtesy Kaj Lund Olsen, book cover courtesy G. P. Putnam's Sons)

Jesse and his agent bounced the words back and forth, and when the manuscript was finished, Jesse painted a sample illustration so publishers could see what the finished book would look like. Once his agent sold the book, Jesse went through a re-editing process. Then he began creating the artwork.

"The first step for the art is to do simple, little sketches called thumbnails—because they are not much bigger than my thumbnail," he said.

Then he took photos of adopted Haitian-born kids that he used to paint his illustrations from. Two of the young kids are the brother and sister of this Kid Reporter!

"Each scene I direct like a little movie, having the models act out what the characters in the book will be doing," Jesse explained.

To get the book out quickly, Jesse compressed a year's work into two and a half months.

"I painted all day, I painted all night," he said. "And much like the writing process of editing down, and editing down, the illustrations were built up and up until they were finished."

Jesse found a way to help kids in Haiti, and so can you! The book's publisher G. P. Putnam's Sons joined with the Pearson Foundation and We Give Books to create an innovative book donation program.

"When kids read digital copies of this book and others for free online, real books are donated to kids in Haiti," Jesse said.

You can learn more at the We Give Books website. What better way could you find to help others than by reading? And why not start with Hope for Haiti?

Check out Kid Reporter Kaj Lund Olsen's review of the book Hope for Haiti.


More than a million people remain homeless and schools are just now being rebuilt in Haiti a year after the country's capital city was devastated by a major earthquake on January 12, 2010. Scholastic Kid Reporters continue their reporting on the earthquake with stories about how people are continuing to help the embattled country in the Crisis in Haiti: One Year Later Special Report.


Get the latest on national and international events, movies, television, music, sports, and more from the Scholastic Kids Press Corps.

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