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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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New Books on Black History

New and recent books on Black artists, writers, civil rights activists, athletes, heroes, and more. 

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Mickalene Thomas: Femmes Noires, edited by Andrea Andersson & Julie Crooks

About the book: Mickalene Thomas's vivid paintings, collages, and photographs explode off the wall. Their larger-than-life women stare back and down at the viewer, confronting them head on. Over the course of her prolific career, Thomas has created a body of work that expands notions of beauty, gender, sexuality, and race, offering a complex vision of what it means to be a Black woman.

In Femmes Noires, Thomas moves breezily between pop culture and the long history of Western and African art, inserting images of Black women into iconic paintings. At times she poses them nude; at other times, she draws on elements as diverse as 1970s black-is-beautiful images of women, Edouard Mamet's odalisque figures, the mise-en-scène studio portraiture of James Van Der Zee and Malick Sidibé, and her own collection of personal portraits and staged scenes. Her ability to detect and contain contradictions and to wrestle with stereotypes translates into powerful, self-possessed depictions of Black women that confront and subvert stereotypes.

Femmes Noires is a bold examination of Thomas's work and her art …

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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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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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New Books to Read for Black History Month

Book Cover The Motorcyclist

These are a handful of great new books illuminating Black History for readers of all ages. Also check out our Notes from a Children's Librarian: Black History Books for Kids list from last year. 

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The Motorcyclist, by George Elliott Clarke

About the book: Carl Black is an intellectual and artist, a traveller, a reader and an unapologetic womanizer. A motorcyclist. He burns for the bohemian life, but is trapped in a railway porter’s prosaic—at times humiliating—existence. Taking place over one dramatic year in Halifax, Nova Scotia, The Motorcyclist vividly recounts Carl’s travels and romantic exploits as he tours the backroads of the east coast and the bedrooms of a series of beautiful women. Inspired by the life of George Elliott Clarke’s father, the novel tells the story of a black working-class man caught between the expectations of his times and gleaming possibilities of the open road.

In vibrant, energetic, sensual prose, George Elliott Clarke brilliantly illuminates the life of a young black man striving for pleasure, success and, most of all, respect.

Why we're taking notice: Clarke was appointed Canada's Parliamentary Poet Laureate in January, and this is his first novel since the acclaimed George and Rue, which told the story of his cousins who …

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Black Ice: The Val James Story

Book Cover Black Ice

Giveaway! (until Feb. 27). 

Val James became the first African American player in the NHL when he took to the ice with the Buffalo Sabres in 1982, and in 1987 he became the first black player of any nationality to skate for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

We're pleased to feature an excerpt from James new autobiography, Black Ice, including a short introduction revealing the harsh reality of James' experiences with racism as an NHL player, and the book's first chapter which takes us back to his first experiences on the ice, learning to skate at the not-so-tender age of 13. 

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His teammates looked away, pretending not to notice that feared hockey enforcer Valmore James was crying. That the events of recent days would bring tears to his eyes should not have been a surprise. Less than one hour earlier, Val and the Buffalo Sabres had finished playing a fierce road contest against the Bruins at hockey’s hallowed Boston Garden. Val had contributed the hard play, and harder punches, that led to his first call up to the National Hockey League.

The years of dreaming and hard work and fighting — especially the fighting — had all brought him to this point. The moment he took to the ice, on a spring evening in 1982, he had become part of a tiny fraternity of American players w …

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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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Picture Books Featuring Children of Colour

During Black History Month, we've been looking back at the history of African-Canadians, but it's also just as important to look forward. We asked author and children's librarian Joanne Schwartz to create a list of picture books set in Canada featuring African-Canadian children characters and other children of colour so that young Canadian readers from all kinds of backgrounds can see the myriad ways in which books are a mirror of their lives and of the world.

Up Home by Shauntay Grant, illus. 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.

Continue reading »