Black History Month – Canadian Reading List for Kids & Teens

Every February, Black History Month honours the legacy of black Canadians, past and present. Celebrate the achievements and contributions of black Canadians through these great Canadian books for children and teens, compiled by our library coordinator, Meghan Howe.

Picture Books


Mayann’s Train Ride
Written by The Honourable Mayann Francis
Illustrated by Tamara Thiébaux-Heikalo
Nimbus Publishing, 2015
ISBN 978-1-77108-348-5
IL: Ages 4-8  RL: Grades 2-3
Nine-year-old Mayann Francis is excited to travel from her home in Cape Breton to New York City with her family by train. When she arrives, she visits her relatives, goes to the zoo, and rides the subway, all the while showing off her new purse. But when she leaves her purse on the subway one day, she gains a valuable lesson.
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Oscar Lives Next Door: A Story Inspired by Oscar Peterson’s Childhood
Written by Bonnie Farmer
Illustrated by Marie Lafrance
Owlkids Books, 2015
ISBN 978-1-77147-104-6
IL: Ages 4-8  RL: Grades 2-3
Long before Oscar Peterson became a virtuoso jazz pianist, he was a boy who loved to play the trumpet. When a bout of 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. This title is also available in French as Mon voisin Oscar: Une histoire inspirée de l’enfance d’Oscar Peterson.
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To the Rescue! Garrett Morgan Underground
(Great Idea)
Written by Monica Kulling
Illustrated by David Parkins
Tundra Books, 2016
ISBN 978-1-77049-520-3
IL: Ages 5-8 RL: Grades 2-3
The son of freed slaves, Garrett Morgan was determined to have a better life than labouring in the Kentucky fields with his parents and 10 siblings. He began by sweeping floors in a clothing factory in Cleveland, Ohio, where he decided to invent a stronger belt for sewing machines. When he was promoted to sewing-machine repairman, Garrett was on his way. In 1911, 146 workers died in the shocking Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire in New York City, so Garrett decided to invent a safety hood for firefighters. Little did he know that most people wouldn’t be interested in buying his safety hood when they discovered its inventor was black. But an explosion that trapped workers in a tunnel under Lake Erie soon changed all that. Garrett’s hoods were rushed to the scene and used to rescue as many men as possible. Developed further, Garrett’s invention came to save thousands of soldiers from chlorine gas in the trenches of World War I. Young readers will also enjoy learning about another black inventor by the name of Elijah McCoy in Kulling’s All Aboard! Elijah McCoy’s Steam Engine.
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Viola Desmond Won’t Be Budged
Written by Jody Nyasha Warner
Illustrated by Richard Rudnicki
Groundwood Books, 2010
ISBN 978-0-88899-779-1
IL: Ages 6-9  RL: Grades 2-3
Like Rosa Parks, Viola Desmond refused to give up her seat because she was black. But Viola wasn’t sitting on a bus, she was sitting in a theatre in Nova Scotia. It seems racial segregation was as much a problem in Canada as it was in the United States. Viola’s bravery inspired people to fight against segregation and racial discrimination in Canada. An afterword provides a glimpse of African Canadian history.
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Junior/Intermediate Fiction & Non-Fiction


Birchtown and the Black Loyalists
Written by Wanda Lauren Taylor
Nimbus Publishing, 2014
ISBN 978-1-77108-166-5
IL: Ages 7-12  RL: Grades 5-6
In this title young readers are introduced to the story of the Black Loyalists of Birchtown: from slavery to the American Revolution; to settlement and struggle on Nova Scotian soil in Birchtown; and finally to mass exodus to Freetown, Sierra Leone. Their legacy, carried on through Black Loyalist descendants, is an enduring spirit despite a history marked by hardship and loss.
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Child Soldier: When Boys and Girls Are Used in War
Written by Michel Chikwanine with Jessica Dee Humphreys
Illustrated by Claudia Dávila
Kids Can Press, 2015
ISBN 978-1-77138-126-0
IL: Ages 10-14  RL: Grades 5-6
Michel is like many other five-year-olds: he has a loving family and spends his days going to school and playing soccer. But in 1993, the Democratic Republic of Congo, where Michel and his family live, is a country in tumult. One afternoon Michel and his friends are kidnapped by rebel militants and forced to become child soldiers. This book is sometimes heartbreaking but ultimately an inspiring true story of the triumph of the human spirit.
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Give Me Wings! How a Choir of Former Slaves Took on the World
Written by Kathy Lowinger
Annick Press
ISBN 978-1-55451-747-3
IL: Ages 11-14  RL: Grades 5-6
A freed slave, Ella Sheppard was a founding member of the Jubilee Singers, a travelling choir that broke down barriers between blacks and whites, lifted spirits, and helped influence modern American music.
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Underground to Canada
(Puffin Classics)
Written by Barbara Smucker
Puffin Canada, 2013 ©1977
ISBN: 978-0-14-318789-9
IL: Ages 9-13  RL: Grades 5-6
Ripped from her mother by slave traders, Julilly yearns to be free. She and her friend Liza dream of escaping to Canada, the ‘Promised Land’ of freedom. So when the Underground Railway offers to help them escape, they are ready. But slave catchers are also ready to relentlessly pursue them… This Canadian classic includes an intro by Lawrence Hill.
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Young Adult Fiction & Non-Fiction


The Gospel Truth
Written by Caroline Pignat
Red Deer Press, 2014
ISBN 978-0-88995-493-9
IL: Ages 12 and up  RL: Grades 6-7
Sixteen-year-old Phoebe is a plantation slave and a keen observer of the brutality that comes with being owned. Mute since her mother was sold, Phoebe has taught herself to read — an advantage and a danger. When a Canadian doctor, the ‘birdman,’ visits the plantation for bird watching, Phoebe soon realizes it’s more than birds that he is after.
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A Big Dose of Lucky
Written by Marthe Jocelyn
Orca Book Publishers, 2015
ISBN 978-1-4598-0668-9
IL: Ages 12 and up  RL: Grades 7-8
Malou has just turned 16 and all she knows for sure is that she’s of mixed race and that she may have been born in a small town in Ontario. Much to her surprise, Parry Sound has quite a few young brown faces, but are they related to her, and is so, how?
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If This Is Freedom
Written by Gloria Ann Wesley
Roseway Publishing
ISBN 978-1-55266-571-8
IL: Ages 12 and up  RL: Grades 7-8
In this sequel to Chasing Freedom, the story of struggle for Black Loyalist settlers in Nova Scotia after the American Revolutionary War continues. In the black settlement of Birchtown, times are especially hard for the former slaves. Sarah Redmond has signed an indenture agreement meant to protect her rights and ensure a living wage but Sarah’s employers do not honour the agreement. One wrong step sets off a chain of unusual events and Sarah must decide whether to stay in Birchtown or to let go.
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Stay Strong: A Musician’s Journey from Congo
Written by Natalie Hyde
Clockwise Press, 2015
ISBN 978-0-9939351-2-1
IL: Ages 12 and up  RL: Grades 7-8
Musician Gentil Misigaro moved from country to country to escape the violence, but it followed him from Congo to Rwanda and then Uganda. When he got the news that he had found a home in Canada, Gentil saw his music as a powerful force that could bring positive change.
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