The month of February is Black History Month for Canadians, an important month to pause and reflect on the legacy left by black women and men in our country.
Many schools observe different activities and educational programs over the course of the month. At home, parents can discuss the history of mistreatment of marginalized people in North America, while highlighting the incredible heroes and heroines of our past and present.
Below is a curated list of books for a variety of age groups that will help guide and direct young readers in learning and engaging in the history of both Canada and the United States, as well as featuring children of colour in literature.
1. Look What Brown Can Do! by T. Marie Harris, Illustrated by Neda Ivanova
A perfect book for little readers that inspires young children to dream big and reach for the stars. Look What Brown Can Do! includes the stories of inspirational men and women who have paved the way for young brown boys and girls everywhere. The story acts as a conversational tool between parent and child to discuss their own individual hopes and dreams. Buy it here.
2. Full, Full, Full of Love by Trish Cooke, Illustrated by Paul Howard
A beautiful children’s book written in rhythmic prose about the special relationship between a child and his grandmother, and the unique traditions and bonds within a family. Buy it here.
3. Lola and the Library by Anna McQuinn, Illustrated by Rosalind Beardshaw
A wonderful story for young readers about Lola and her exciting Tuesday tradition of going to the library with her mom. Lola loves everything about visiting the library, and this book celebrates the excitement of a small child who looks forward to her weekly literary adventure. Buy it here.
4. Mayann’s Train Ride by Mayann Francis, Illustrated by Tamara Thiébaux-Heikalo
A true story about The Hon. Mayann Francis, former Lieutenant Governor of Nova Scotia. 9-year-old Mayann Francis takes a train from Cape Breton to New York City with her family and enjoys many new experiences while travelling and visiting her family. When Mayann loses her purse she learns an important and valuable lesson. Buy it here.
5. Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History by Vashti Harrison
This was an instant bestseller when it was released and is perfect for readers of all ages. Little Leaders includes the stories of forty black women who were American trailblazers. The stories include instantly recognizable names and lesser-known world changers. Buy it here.
6. The Story of Ruby Bridges by Robert Cole, illustrated by George Ford
The powerful story of young Ruby Bridges, the first African American child to integrate into a desegregated school in the United States. Six-year-old Ruby endures a mob of angry parents while trying to walk to school, and must overcome opposition as the first black child to attend a desegregated school. Buy it here.
7. Unspoken: A Story from the Underground Railroad by Henry Cole
Henry Cole illustrates this daring and haunting wordless story of a young farm girl who discovers a runaway slave hiding in a barn and must decide what to do. Buy it here.
8. Henry’s Freedom Box by Ellen Levine, Illustrated by Kadir Nelson
The true story of a young slave named Henry, who doesn’t even know his own birthday. After a difficult life full of tragedy, Henry decides to mail himself to the North and finds freedom in an unexpected way. Buy it here.
9. Viola Desmond Won’t Be Budged by Jody Nyasha Warner, illustrated by Richard Rudnicki
The true and powerful story of a brave woman in Nova Scotia who refused to move from her main floor movie theatre seat to the balcony, where black moviegoers were expected to sit. In 1946 Viola Desmond took a courageous stand and made history as an inspiration to her community in the face of injustice. Buy it here.
10. To Stand and Fight Together: Richard Pierpoint and the Coloured Corps of Upper Canada by Steve Pitt
The true story of Richard Pierpoint, a 64-year-old black United Empire Loyalist who enlisted a group of coloured men, and fought against Americans attempting to invade Upper Canada in 1812. Buy it here.
11. All Aboard: Elijah McCoy’s Steam Engine! by Monica Kulling and Illustrated by Bill Slavin
A perfect book for young and early readers, this readable biography looks at the life and accomplishments of Elijah McCoy. Elijah studied Mechanical Engineering in Scotland, but when he returned to the United States was hired to shovel coal. Determined to work in his own vocation, he went on to invent a way to oil the engine while the train was still running, and transformed travel around the world. Buy it here.
12. The Other Side by Jacqueline Woodson, Illustrated by E.B. Lewis
A powerful story about two young heroines, one black and one white, who forge an unstoppable friendship. Despite a division of the town that separates black and white families and a rule that neither can cross into the other’s side, the two girls manage to find a way around the rules. Buy it here.
13. Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt by Deborah Hopkinson, Illustrated by James Ransome
A fictional tale about a daring and inspiring slave named Clara, who fashions a map from scraps of fabric to be used in the Underground Railroad. Buy it here.
14. Elijah of Buxton by Christopher Paul Curtis
The perfect novel for middle-grade readers by masterful storyteller Christopher Paul Curtis. Elijah lives in Buxton, Ontario, and is the first child to be born into freedom. Elijah joins his friend Mr. Leroy to rescue stolen money in America, only to realize the freedom he has the atrocities his parents escaped in the South. Buy it here.