Black history in Canada includes a variety of Canadian stories, Canadian heroes and Canadian communities. In celebration of Black History Month, the Canadian Children’s Book Centre has compiled a list of Canadian books that teachers and librarians can use to explore this country’s stories.
for Kindergarten to Grade 2
Nana’s Cold Days
written by Adwoa Badoe, illustrated by Bushra Junaid
When Ken and Rama’s grandmother arrives from Africa to visit in the middle of winter, she says, “It’s too cold for living things.” Bushra Junaid has used an innovative collage style to illustrate Adwoa Badoe’s warm and humorous family story.
Steel Drums and Ice Skates
written by Dirk McLean, illustrated by Ho Che Anderson
Holly adjusts to the difficult move from Trinidad to Toronto to be with her parents and learns to skate in a tale illustrated by noted cartoonist Ho Che Anderson.
written by Shauntay Grant, illustrated by Susan Tooke
Shauntay Grant’s poem describes her happy childhood memories of North Preston, Nova Scotia and Susan Tooke’s artwork captures the warmth of one of Canada’s most significant black communities.
Junior Fiction and Non-fiction
for Grades 3 to 5
Our Canadian Girl: Rachel series
written by Lynn Kositsky
Penguin Group (Canada)
Four books in this popular series tell the story of Rachel and her family, black Loyalists struggling to settle in Nova Scotia’s Birchtown after the American Revolution.
The Last Days in Africville
written by Dorothy Perkyns
A novel about the very real destruction of the Halifax community of Africville, which had been home to a tightly knit group of African Canadians for over one hundred years.
written by Robert Livesey, illustrated by A.G. Smith
Fitzhenry & Whiteside
Robert Livesey’s text and A.G. Smith’s engaging pen-and-ink illustrations explore the diversity and depth of Canada’s black heritage.
The Children of Africville
written by Christine Welldon
A new book tells the story of the famed Halifax community that was demolished in the 1960s.
The Kids Book of Black Canadian History
written by Rosemary Sadlier, illustrated by Qi-Jun Wang
Kids Can Press
Inspiring stories that offer a glimpse into an often-overlooked part of Canadian history.
Senior Fiction and Non-Fiction
for Grades 6 to 9
Elijah of Buxton
written by Christopher Paul Curtis
Elijah is the first child born free in the new community of Buxton, Ontario, home to many escaped slaves. A powerful and award-wining novel.
Choice of Colours: How African-American Quarterbacks Became Canadian Stars
written by John Danakas
James Lorimer & Company
Fifty years ago, talented American football players headed north to play the sport they loved. Many rose to stardom in Canada but longed for progress back home.
Singing Towards the Future: The Story of Portia White
(Stories of Canada)
written by lian goodall, illustrated by Liz Milkau
Meet the first classical singer trained in Canada to appear on an international stage. A Nova Scotian and Canadian talent.
Working for Freedom: The Story of Josiah Henson
(Stories of Canada)
written by Rona Arato, illustrated by Chrissie Wysotski
The story of a noted preacher, entrepreneur, philanthropist and “conductor” on the Underground Railway, who also founded a settlement of former slaves at Dawn, Ontario.
Senior Fiction and Non-Fiction
for Grades 9 to 12
The Freedom of Jenny
written by Julie Burtinshaw
Born into slavery in the 1840s, Jenny and her family leave the banks of the Mississippi and travel to British Columbia’s Salt Spring Island.
James Douglas: Father of British Columbia
written by Julie H. Ferguson
James Douglas was a fur trader, adventurer and the controversial governor of the Colonies of Vancouver Island and British Columbia in pre-Confederations days.
I Came As a Stranger: The Underground Railroad
written by Bryan Prince
Dramatic stories of how slaves found freedom in Canada, often told by the fugitives themselves.
Oscar: The Life and Music of Oscar Peterson
written by Reva Marin
An engaging biography of a Canadian star and one of the leading musicians on the international jazz stage.
Season of Rage: Hugh Burnett and the Struggle for Civil Rights
written by John Cooper
In 1950s Dresden, Ontario, a local restaurant was one of the last places in North American where black people and white people could not sit down to share a cup of coffee. This is the story of the National Unity Association and their courageous work to change these attitudes.
To Stand and Fight Together: Richard Pierpoint and the Coloured Corps of Upper Canada
written by Steve Pitt
The story of Richard Pierpoint, a young slave captured in the small African country of Bondu, who founded the Coloured Corps, a group of black men loyal to Britain, who fought for the British during the War of 1812.
The Underground Railroad: Next Stop, Toronto!
written by Afua Cooper, Adrienne Shadd and Karolyn Smardz Frost
Natural Heritage Books/Dundurn Press
An engaging and highly readable account of the lives of Black people in Toronto in the 1800s.
Ultimate African Heritage Quiz Book: Maritime Edition
written by Craig Marshall Smith
Over 250 trivia questions about Canadians of African heritage with a strong focus on the history and culture of black Nova Scotians.
The list above originally appeared in the winter 2010 issue of Canadian Children’s Book News.