In celebration of Black History Month, the Canadian Children’s Book Centre has compiled a list of 20 Canadian books for kids and teens. Celebrate the month of February in your school or library with any of these fine books.
Picture Books and Fiction
Written by Adwoa Badoe
Groundwood Books, 2010
Grade 8 / Ages 14 and up
When Gloria fails her final exams, her future looks bleak. With her mother ill and her father out of work, Gloria moves north to Kumasi to be a nanny and housekeeper for a well-to-do relative. Gloria is betrayed by the people around her and disillusioned by her life. When she decides who she can trust and draws on her inner resources, she puts the bad experiences behind her. A glossary of Ghanaian terms is included.
Written by Allan Stratton
Annick Press, 2004
Grade 7 / Ages 12 and up
A teenager living in Africa fights to rescue the people she loves. Readers gain powerful insight into the appalling treatment of AIDS victims, and ultimately will be disturbed by the truth. The feature film, Life, Above All, was based on this novel and went on to win the esteemed Prix François Chalais at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival.
Crossing to Freedom
Written by Virginia Frances Schwartz
Scholastic Canada, 2010
Grades 5-7 / Ages 9-12
Eleven-year-old Solomon is on the most dangerous journey a slave can take. He’s on his way to Canada and, he hopes, a life of freedom. When his grandfather is injured during the last leg of the journey, Solomon must continue on alone. As he attempts to create a new home in Canada, it soon becomes apparent that racial prejudice is not restricted to the south. Solomon must persevere to gain true freedom.
Cry of the Giraffe
Written by Judie Oron
Annick Press, 2010
Grade 9 / Ages 14 and up
Fleeing from hatred and persecution because of their Jewish faith, 13-year-old Wuditu and her family trek on foot to Sudan, hoping to be transported to Yerusalem and a better life. Instead they are herded into a refugee camp and eventually forced back to the Ethiopian border. Judie Oron, a journalist, risks her life to help Wuditu leave Ethiopia and find safety in her spiritual homeland of Israel. This story is based on true events.
A Desperate Road to Freedom: The Underground Railroad Diary of Julia May Jackson
Written by Karleen Bradford
Scholastic Canada, 2009
Grade 4 / Ages 9-12
A riveting tale of a brave family’s last bid for freedom, and the price they pay to find it. Readers will be moved as they follow Julia May’s family on their trek north. But even here, old prejudices die hard.
Elijah of Buxton
Written by Christopher Paul Curtis
Scholastic Canada, 2007
Grade 4 / Ages 9-12
Elijah is a first-generation freeborn child from Buxton, Ontario. When the town’s corrupt preacher steals money intended to buy the freedom of slaves still trapped in the U.S., Elijah sets off for nearby Detroit in pursuit of the thief.
(Our Canadian Girl)
Written by Lynne Kositsky
Puffin Canada, 2010
Grades 3-4 / Ages 8-12
For Rachel, the best thing about freedom is the chance to learn to read and write. But her family’s joy at finally being free is dashed as they face the challenges of life in a barren land and must fight against harsh winter conditions and intolerant neighbours in northern Nova Scotia. For a brief moment Rachel wonders if they were better off as slaves. But she is determined not only to survive, but to make the most of her new life.
The Name of the Tree: A Bantu Folktale
Retold by Celia Barker Lottridge
Illustrated by Ian Wallace
Groundwood Books, 2002 ©1989
Grades 1-3 / Ages 5-9
A group of starving animals discover a miraculous tree which could feed them all – if only they knew its name. One by one they travel to their king, asking the tree’s name, but only the tortoise succeeds in returning with the magic word that will save them all. This elegant retelling of a Bantu folktale is brought to life by Ian Wallace’s extraordinary illustrations.
The Orphan Boy
Written by Tololwa Mollel
Illustrated by Paul Morin
Fitzhenry & Whiteside, 2009 ©1990
Grades 1-3 / Ages 4-8
Winner of the 1990 Governor General’s Literary Award for Illustration, this stunning creation recounts an evocative Maasai tale about the planet Venus, known as the “Orphan Boy.” An eloquent text and rich illustraions make this a perfect read-aloud story for all ages.
Written by Shauntay Grant
Illustrated by Susan Tooke
Nimbus Publishing, 2008
Grade 3 / Ages 5-8
Shauntay Grant’s poem describes the happy memories of her childhood visits to North Preston, Nova Scotia. Her words evoke the sights, sounds, rhythms and folks of a joyful place. Susan Tooke’s artwork captures the warmth of one of Canada’s most significant black communities.
Africans Thought of It: Amazing Innovations
(We Thought of It)
Written by Bathseba Opini and Richard B. Lee
Annick Press, 2011
Grades 4-6 / Ages 9-12
From aloe vera to the xylophone, this fourth book in Annick’s successful We Thought of It series takes readers on a fascinating journey across the world’s second largest continent to discover how aspects of its culture have spread around the globe.
All Aboard! Elijah McCoy’s Steam Engine
Written by Monica Kulling
Illustrated by Bill Slavin
Tundra Books, 2010
Grade 3 / Ages 5-8
Elijah McCoy, the son of slaves, dreamed of studying mechanical engineering. In Scotland he learned everything there was to know about engines, from designing them to building them. When he returned to the United States, the only job Elijah could find was shovelling coal into a train’s firebox. Frustrated with having to stop the train to oil the engine, Elijah invented an oil cup that oiled the engine while the train was running.
The Betrayal of Africa
Written by Gerald Caplan
Groundwood Books, 2008
Grades 7-8 / Ages 14 and up
Gerald Caplan traces the evolution of Africa’s toxic relationship with the West from the transatlantic slave trade to the current situation of conflict, poor governance, forced subjection to the world economy and AIDS. The book includes a timeline, bibliography, list of websites and an index.
The Bite of the Mango
Written by Mariatu Kamara with Susan McClelland
Annick Press, 2008
Grades 8-9 / Ages 14 and up
Mariatu Kamara led a carefree childhood in a small rural village in Sierra Leone. But when she was 12, young rebels cut off her hands. Discover her astounding journey from her war-torn country to a new life in Canada. In 2008, she embarked on a North American speaking tour as a UNICEF Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict. Winner of the 2009 Norma Fleck Award for Canadian Children’s Non-Fiction.
George Washington Carver: An Innovative Life
(Snapshots: Images of People and Places in History)
Written by Elizabeth MacLeod
Kids Can Press, 2007
Grades 4-6 / Ages 8-12
Meet the “Peanut Scientist,” George Washington Carver (1864-1943), the inventor and professor who made over 325 products out of peanuts. Through his groundbreaking agricultural research, he also dramatically improved the lives of countless Black farmers in the southern United States.
The Kids Book of Black Canadian History
(Kids Book of…)
Written by Rosemary Sadlier
Illustrated by Wang Qijun
Kids Can Press, 2010 ©2003
Grades 5-6 / Ages 10-14
From the first Black person who came to Canada about 400 years ago to the most recent wave of African immigrants, young readers will discover the inspiring stories of a people who fought oppression as they searched for a place to call their own. Featuring fact boxes, mini-profiles, a timeline and more, this is a glimpse into an often-overlooked part of Canadian history.
Out of Slavery: The Journey to Amazing Grace
Written by Linda Granfield
Illustrated by Janet Wilson
Tundra Books, 2009 ©1997
Grade 6 / Ages 9-12
Seafaring trader John Newton carried slaves as cargo. A frightful storm changed his life and inspired him to pen the hymn “Amazing Grace.” This work on slavery contains the original text and music of the hymn. Originally published in 1997 by Tundra Books as Amazing Grace: The Story of the Hymn.
Season of Rage: Hugh Burnett and the Struggle for Civil Rights
Written by John Cooper
Tundra Books, 2005
Grades 7-9 / Ages 12 and up
The last place in North America where black people and white people could not sit down together to share a cup of coffee in a restaurant was not in the Deep South. It was in the small, sleepy Ontario town of Dresden. After experiencing discrimination in a restaurant, a group of African-Canadians decide to challenge racist attitudes. This compelling narrative recounts the details of their rage.
Viola Desmond Won’t Be Budged
Written by Jody Nyasha Warner
Illustrated by Richard Rudnicki
Groundwood Books, 2010
Grades 1-3 / Ages 6-9
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.
Working For Freedom: The Story of Josiah Henson
(Stories of Canada)
Written by Rona Arato
Illustrated by Chrissie Wysotski
Grade 5 / Ages 10 and up
Josiah Henson (1789-1883) was a slave who had been sold three times by the time he turned six. As an adult, he escaped to what is now Ontario and led 118 slaves to safety and freedom as a conductor on the Underground Railroad. This biography contains photos, illustrations, a timeline of Henson’s life and times, an index and a bibliography.