Canadian Children’s Books for Black History Month, February 2019
February is Black History Month and, in order to mark the occasion, we’ve compiled a list of books that will inform readers about the achievements and trials of Black people in Canada and elsewhere. The selected titles — a variety of picture books, fiction, and non-fiction — are either written by Canadian authors or touch on a portion of the experience of Black people in Canada.
For young readers:
Malaika’s Winter Carnival by Nadia L. Hohn (Ages 3-7).
Malaika is happy to be reunited with Mummy, but it means moving to Canada, where everything is different. It’s cold in Québec City and Carnival is nothing like the celebration Malaika knows from home!
Music from the Sky by Denise Gillard (Ages 3-7).
A young girl and her grandfather set out one morning to find the perfect branch for Grampa to carve. Grampa says he's going to make a flute, but the girl is doubtful. How can her grandfather make a flute out of a tree branch?
Nana’s Cold Days by Adwoa Badoe (Ages 4-8).
Nana is coming to visit from Africa, and grandsons Ken and Rama have been looking forward to her visit for months. But it's icy cold when she arrives and all she can do is drape herself in bed covers.
All Aboard! Elijah McCoy’s Steam Engine by Monica Kulling (Ages 4-8).
Elijah McCoy, the son of slaves, dreamed of studying mechanical engineering. He learned everything there was to know about engines. When he came to the United States, the only job Elijah could find was shoveling coal into a train's firebox. Frustrated with having to stop the train to oil the engine, Elijah comes up with a brilliant invention.
Mayann’s Train Ride by Mayann Francis (Ages 4-8).
Nine-year-old Mayann Francis and her family are travelling from their home in Cape Breton to New York City by train. Everything is exciting to young Mayann on the trip, but most exciting of all is the chance to show off her brand new purse. On a subway ride, she loses her treasured purse and Mayann struggles with a lesson that will make the whole trip worthwhile.
Up Home by Shauntay Grant (Ages 4-8).
This touching poem from spoken-word artist and poet Shauntay Grant offers a child's perspective on growing up in a tight-knit community. Grant's memories of growing up reflect a magical place where landscape, food, history and people come together in a community filled with love and beauty.
Harriet Tubman: Freedom Fighter by Nadia L. Hohn (Ages 4-8).
Canadian author Nadia Hohn provides a biography of Harriet Tubman which depicts her early life as a slave, her dedication to helping others escape from slavery, and her life after the Civil War.
Oscar Lives Next Door: A Story Inspired by Oscar Peterson’s Childhood by Bonnie Farmer (Ages 5-9).
Long before Oscar Peterson became a virtuoso jazz pianist, he was a boy who loved to play the trumpet. When childhood tuberculosis weakened his lungs, Oscar could no longer play his beloved instrument. He took up piano and the rest is history: Oscar went on to become an international jazz piano sensation.
Viola Desmond Won’t Be Budged! By Jody Warner (Ages 5-9).
In Nova Scotia, in 1946, an usher in a movie theatre told Viola Desmond to move from her main floor seat up to the balcony. She refused. Viola knew she was being asked to move because she was Black. All the other Black people were up in the balcony. The police arrived and took Viola to jail. The next day she was charged and fined, but she vowed to continue her struggle against such unfair rules.
Hurry, Freedom by Frieda Wishinsky (Age 6-9).
Emily and Matt journey to the Canada-U.S. border in 1858 to travel along the Underground Railroad. They befriend famous abolitionist Dr. Alexander Ross and a group of runaway slaves he’s helping escape to Canada.
From the Heart of Africa: A Book of Wisdom by Eric Walters (Ages 6-9).
A collection of African wisdom gorgeously illustrated by artists from Ghana, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Canada, the United States and more.
A Change of Heart by Alice Walsh (Ages 6-9).
Lanier Phillips escapes the violence, racism, and segregation of his Georgia home by joining the navy during the Second World War. But tragedy strikes one February night off the southeastern coast of Newfoundland, and Lanier is the lone Black survivor of a terrible shipwreck. Covered in oil when he arrives onshore, the community's kindness and humanity brings him back to health and changes his outlook on life.
Meet Viola Desmond by Elizabeth MacLeod (Ages 6-10).
Meet Viola Desmond, community leader and early civil rights trailblazer. This new picture book biography series features simple text and full-colour, comic-flavoured illustration with speech balloons that bring the story of Viola Desmond alive.
For older readers:
The Pot of Wisdom: Ananse Stories by Adwoa Badoe (Ages 7-12).
Drawing on the rich vein of the African Ananse tradition, author Adwoa Badoe brings us a lively, witty and entertaining collection of ten tales about this spider trickster. Sometimes Ananse succeeds and things go his way; other times he makes a fool of himself and is ashamed — but never for a long time.
Kids Book of Black Canadian History by Rosemary Sadlier (Ages 8-12).
Black Canadians have played an important role in our country's history. In this informative overview, kids will discover the inspiring stories and events of a people who fought oppression as they searched for a place to call their own.
Crossing to Freedom by Virginia Frances Schwartz (Age 9-12).
Eleven-year-old Solomon is a fugitive slave on a dangerous journey north to Canada, and to freedom. It soon becomes apparent that racial prejudices know no borders, and while Solomon works hard and begins to experience some newfound freedoms, he faces discrimination and segregation and lives with the ongoing fear of being caught by slave catchers.
Elijah of Buxton by Christopher Paul Curtis (Age 9-12).
Eleven-year-old Elijah Freeman is the first child born into freedom in Buxton, Ontario, a settlement of runaway slaves just over the border from Detroit. Elijah ventures on a dangerous journey to America and discovers firsthand the unimaginable horrors of the life his parents have fled. If you enjoy this one, you may also want to try The Journey of Little Charlie by the same author.
Underground to Canada by Barbara Smucker (Age 9-12).
Taken away from her mother by a ruthless slave trader, all Julilly has left is the dream of freedom. Every day that she spends huddled in the slaver trader's wagon travelling south or working on the brutal new plantation, she thinks about the land where it is possible to be free, a land she and her friend Liza may reach someday.
Black Women Who Dared by Naomi Moyer (Ages 9-12).
Artist Naomi Moyer presents powerful biographical portraits of ten Black women and women’s collectives from Canadian and American history, ranging from 1793 to the present. Included are leaders and ground-breakers who were anti-slavery activists, business women, organizers who promoted healthcare, and educators who taught literacy and scholarship in Black neighborhoods.
A Desperate Road to Freedom: The Underground Railroad Diary of Julia May Jackson by Karleen Bradford (Ages 9-12).
Julia May and her family have fled from their life of slavery on a tobacco plantation in Virginia, and are making their way north, on foot, where they have heard that slaves can live free. It is a harrowing, terrifying experience, but determination to find a new life in Canada keeps them going.
The Children of Africville by Christine Welldon (Ages 10+).
The children of Africville, Nova Scotia, lived in a special community where everyone knew their neighbours, and all helped and cared for each other. It was the perfect place for children to play and grow up. This is the remarkable story of these children during the community's final years, before it was torn down and its families were relocated.
Talking About Freedom by Natasha Henry (Ages 10+).
On August 1, 1834, 800,000 enslaved Africans in the British colonies, including Canada, were declared free. Discover the main features of Emancipation Day celebrations, learn about the people of African ancestry's struggle for freedom, and the victories achieved in the push for equality into the 21st century.
I Came as a Stranger: The Underground Railroad by Bryan Prince (Ages 10+).
This book celebrates Ontario’s role in the Underground Railroad. Writer Bryan Prince, winner of the Queen’s Golden Jubilee Medal for contributions to Black history, tells what happened to escaping slaves who came to Ontario, and how they were aided or resisted by Canadians and Americans alike.