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Books for Black History Month—And All Year Long

I Am Because We Are: An African Mother’s Fight for the Soul of a Nation, by Chidiogo Akunyili-Parr

About the book: In this innovative and intimate memoir, a daughter tells the story of her mother, a pan-African hero who faced down misogyny and battled corruption in Nigeria. 

Inspired by the African philosophy of Ubuntu — the importance of community over the individual — and outraged by injustice, Dora Akunyili took on fraudulent drug manufacturers whose products killed millions, including her sister.

A woman in a man’s world, she was elected and became a cabinet minister, but she had to deal with political manoeuvrings, death threats, and an assassination attempt for defending the voiceless. She suffered for it, as did her marriage and six children. 

I Am Because We Are illuminates the role of kinship, family, and the individual’s place in society, while revealing a life of courage, how community shaped it, and the web of humanity that binds us all.

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Black & White: An Intimate, Multicultural Perspective on “White Advantage” and the Paths to …

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Books to Inspire

My grandfather, the late Senator Calvin Ruck, was a storyteller. He’s also one of the most inspirational men I’ve ever had the privilege of knowing. Amazing Black Atlantic Canadians: Inspiring Stories of Courage and Strength was born out of a desire to share some of those stories that he told me as a young girl (including his own). They are stories of courage, strength, hope, and overcoming the odds to do great things.

The following recommended reading list features books that have inspired me to push harder, to dream bigger, and most importantly, to love myself entirely as I am. The titles range from simple children’s picture books to gritty memoirs that put it all on the page and leave you energized to kick up the dust, to take on the world, and to do away with the status quo. The power of the written word is quite remarkable, and I’m so grateful these authors have chosen words that have, and will continue to, inspire so many. 

 

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The following recommended reading list features books that have inspired me to push harder, to dream bigger, and most importantly, to love myself entirely as I am.

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The Chat with Shauntay Grant and Eva Campbell

eva 3 photo credit Brian Geary

The vibrant picture book Africville was a finalist for the 2018 Governor General’s Award for Literature for Young People. It tells the story of Africville through the eyes of a young girl. This week we’re in conversation with the book’s creators, author Shauntay Grant and illustrator Eva Campbell.

In a starred review, Quill & Quire says, "Shauntay Grant’s writing is graceful ... She reaches out to young readers and invites them in ... Visually, Africville is gorgeous. Eva Campbell’s illustrations are arresting; the colours are warm and inviting, and her painterly style enhances the dreamlike quality of the story." 

Eva Campbell is an artist and illustrator who teaches visual art at Lester B. Pearson College UWC. She has exhibited her work in Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, Barbados, and Ghana. Eva won the Children’s Africana Book Award for her illustrations in The Matatuby by Eric Walters. She lives in Victoria.

Shauntay Grant_photo credit Shyronn Smardon

Shauntay Grant is a descendant of Black Loyalists, Jamaican Maroons and Black Refugees who migrated to Canada some t …

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Picture Books for Black History Month

Black History Month is a perfect opportunity to highlight these excellent books which celebrate Black heroes and Black culture. 

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Up Home, by Shauntay Grant and Susan Tooke

About the book: A positive, heartwarming portrayal of North Preston past and present. This touching poem from spoken-word artist, poet and CBC Radio personality Shauntay Grant portrays the Nova Scotian community of Preston. Short, staccato lines, musicality and the use of real, spoken language, and Susan Tooke's breathtaking illustrations using real models from the community, combine in a sensory experience that is sure to wow readers of all ages. Grant's memories of growing up reflect a magical place where landscape, food, history and, most of all, people come together in a community filled with love and beauty. A powerful story with positive images of one of Nova Scotia's most important black communities.

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All Aboard: Elijah McCoy's Steam Engine, by Monica Kulling and Bill Slavin

About the book: In the second of Tundra's Great Idea Series, biographies for children who are just s …

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Gallery: Daddy Hall by Tony Miller

Born of a Mohawk father and an escaped-slave mother, John ‘Daddy’ Hall was a product of not one but two oppressed peoples. His gripping story is the stuff of legends—of the War of 1812, of the harsh realities slavery and of triumph in the face of adversity. Over the course of his 117-year life, Hall identified as a freeman, a scout for the British under Chief Tecumseh, a captured slave, an escapee on the Underground Railroad, a town crier in Owen Sound, Ontario, a husband and, as his nickname aptly suggests, father to an impressive number of children.

In Daddy Hall, Owen Sound-based artist Tony Miller’s 80 stark and arresting black-and-white linocuts present an unflinching portrait of a remarkable African-Canadian whose story of resilience and reinvention offers a fascinating glimpse into the history of Southwestern Ontario.

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Book Cover Daddy Hall

Daddy Hall Page 55

Daddy Hall Page 77

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In the Lion's Den: Being Black in Canada

B. Denham Jolly arrived in Canada from Jamaica to attend university in the mid-1950s and worked as a high school teacher before going into the nursing and retirement-home business. Though he was ultimately successful in his business ventures, Jolly faced both overt and covert discrimination, which led him into social activism. The need for a stronger voice for the Black community fuelled Jolly’s 12-year battle to get a licence for a Black-owned radio station in Toronto. At its launch in 2001, Flow 93.5 became the model for urban music stations across the country, helping to launch the careers of artists like Drake.

In his new memoir, In the Black: My Life, Jolly chronicles not only his own journey; he tells the story of a generation of activists who worked to reshape the country into a more open and just society. While celebrating these successes, In the Black also measures the distance Canada still has to travel before we reach our stated ideals of equality.

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When you are Black in Canada, the arrival of the police on the scene is not always, or even often, reassuring.

Three years ago, on Parliament Street in Toronto’s Cabbagetown neighbourhood, not far from where I live, I had a fender bender. I was exchanging insurance information with the other driver whe …

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New Books on Black History

On the occasion of Black History Month, we're featuring some new books—non-fiction, an autobiography, a novel, and a biography in linocuts—that underline the richness and diversity of Black history in Canada.  

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 Steal Away Home: One Woman's Epic Flight to Freedom—And Her Long Road Back to the South, by Karolyn Smardz Frost (OUT NOW)

About the book: For readers of The Book of Negroes, Bound for Canaan, House Girl and The Illegal comes the story of a fifteen-year-old escaped slave named Cecelia Reynolds, who slips away to freedom in Canada while her Kentucky owners holiday at Niagara Falls

In this compelling work of narrative non-fiction, Governor General’s Award winner Karolyn Smardz Frost brings Cecelia’s story to life. Cecelia was a teenager when she made her dangerous bid for freedom from the United States, across the Niagara River and into Canada. Escape meant that she would never see her mother or brother again. She would be cut off from the young mistress with whom she grew up, but who also owned her as a slave holder owns the body of a slave. This was a time when people could be property, when a beloved father could be separated from his wife while their children were auctioned off to the highest bidder, and the son of a white master and his bla …

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Negotiating a Black Vernacular in Children’s Literature

Book Cover Up Home

Talking History focuses on a wide range of topics in Canadian history, and it consists of articles by Canada's foremost historians and history experts. Our contributors use the power of narrative to bring the past to life and to show how it is not just relevant, but essential to our understanding of Canada and the world today. "Talking History" is a series made possible through a special funding grant from the Department of Canadian Heritage.

Shauntay Grant is a writer and storyteller from Nova Scotia, and served as Halifax's Poet Laureate from 2009-2011. 

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nanny made blueburry duff
today afta’ schoo’

had a bigole bag a burry’s
leftova from las summa
frozen cole

she ga’e me two great big dumplin’s
an’ enough sauce to cova’ de bowl

she didn’ haf none doe 

say she need to watch ha sugah’s
e’er since christmas
when she caught diabetics
offa mum's lemin loaf

About a dozen grade 6 students at Nelson Whynder Elementary School in North Preston sit in small clusters: working groups of three or four, huddled around square tables, dissecting a sample from my newest collection of poems.

"You wouldn’ say last, we would say las—without pronouncing T," a girl tells me. She sounds each letter with clear certainty.

"L-A-S."

"I don’ sink so," a boy pipes up in …

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Black Power in 1960s' Montreal and the Congress of Black Writers

Book Cover Fear of a Black Nation

The Montreal Congress of Black Writers took place over four days in 1968, and represented a landmark shift in Canadian Black consciousness. In his book, Fear of a Black Nation (which has just been awarded the Casa de las Américas Literary Award for Caribbean Literature), David Austin chronicles and analyzes the Black Power movement in 1960s' Montreal, and notes the Congress as the moment at which Montreal became central to International Black radical politics. 

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In August 1968 Le Magazine Maclean published an article by Boubacar Koné, a Senegalese journalist of Malian origin, on being Black in Montreal. Its title, “Être Noir,” could just as easily have been “Être et Noir” (Being and blackness) because, in recording the experiences of Africans, former British and French Caribbean subjects, and Canadian-born Blacks of several generations, the article captured the sense of change and sameness within Montreal’s Black population of the time. A political shift had begun to take place among both native-born Black Canadians and Caribbean immigrants, and particularly among people who increasingly drew inspiration from the Black Power Movement in the United States. Members of the growing Caribbean community began to turn their attention away from their ori …

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Notes from a Children's Librarian: Books for Black History Month

Each month, our resident Children's Librarian, Julie Booker, gives us a new view from the stacks. For February, she provides a great list for Black History Month. 

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A colleague recently asked for black history materials that didn't reference slavery. I was taken aback. Then I realized; each year I rotely pull books about Harriet Tubman, Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, Ruby Bridges, Viola Desmond, the Underground Railroad. The challenge this time was to create a list that veers away from slavery, and highlights Canadians. 

Kids Can Press offers that with three books in a research-friendly format. Profile boxes, Did-You-Know's, bold headings, bullet points, timelines, manageably-sized paragraphs and illustrations are perfect for ages 10 and up. 

The Kids Book of Black Canadian History, by Rosemary Sadlier, is a one-stop-shop, covering four major groups who helped form our country: Africans, Caribbeans & South Americans, Americans, and several-generation Canadians. Sadlier, of course, includes slavery, explaining Africville and Birchtown settlements, the Jamaican Maroons and the Exodusters. But she goes far beyond with military heroes, famous cowboys, journalists, pioneers, activists and inventors.

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