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New Books to Read for Black History Month

Great new books illuminating Black History for readers of all ages.

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. 


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 were hanged for murdering a taxi driver in 1949. This new novel is based on the life of Clarke's father and promises to be an excellent read. 


Book Cover A Black Family's Journey

A Black Family's Journey, by Hilary J. Dawson

About the book: William Lafferty arrived in Canada destitute and illiterate in 1830, after escaping slavery in the United States.

A Black Family’s Journey follows the Lafferty family through a turbulent period in Canadian history. Over three generations, the Lafferty family played roles in pivotal events, including the abolition of slavery in the British Empire and the U.S., women’s winning the right to vote, Toronto’s expansion from a pioneer outpost to a modern economy, and the development of the black community of Buxton, Ontario.

Canada in the nineteenth century was no haven from prejudice, and the stories of William, his children, and his children’s children offer firsthand accounts of black Ontarians responding to racism with a mix of assimilation, solidarity, and the pursuit of personal excellence. The record they left behind is a rare and detailed account of changing racial and class dynamics in Ontario from the 1830s to the mid-twentieth century.

Why we're taking notice: Dawson is a senior historical researcher at York University’s Harriet Tubman Institute, which makes her well-placed to bring the stories of the Lafferty family to life.


Book Cover Cafe Babanussa

Cafe Babanussa, by Karen Hill

About the book: In this beautifully written and moving novel, informed by many of the author’s own experiences, a young mixed-race woman travels from Canada to Germany to start her life anew. Ruby Edwards, escaping a loving but at times overbearing family, throws herself into the shifting social and political sinews of 1980s-era West Berlin—a time of new music, punk rockers, travellers, racial tensions and a beating pulse of artistic energy. Here, Ruby finds love and new challenges, striving to discover the person she was meant to be. But the highs become too high and the lows too low, and Ruby finds herself plunged into the depths of mental illness. With courage and determination, Ruby again and again pulls herself back from the brink and revels in what matters most to her—her family, her community and her own individuality. Inspiring and heart-rending, Cafe Babanussa is an engrossing, deftly crafted novel by a voice that was lost to us all too soon.

Why We're Taking Notice: This posthumous novel was edited by Hill's brother, Lawrence Hill (The Book of Negroes) and Jennifer Lambert at Harpercollins Canada to finally deliver readers this remarkable voice. The publication is timely too, corresponding with Darryl Pinckney's new novel, Black Deutschland, about the same place and time.  


Book Cover A Place in the Sun

A Place in the Sun: Haiti, Haitians, and the Remaking of Quebec, by Sean Mills

About the book: From the 1930s to the 1950s, French-Canadian and Haitian cultural and political elites developed close intellectual bonds and large numbers of French-Canadian missionaries began working in the country. Through these encounters, French-Canadian intellectual and religious figures developed an image of Haiti that would circulate widely throughout Quebec and have ongoing cultural ramifications. After first exploring French-Canadian views of Haiti, Sean Mills reverses the perspective by looking at the many ways that Haitian migrants intervened in and shaped Quebec society. As the most significant group seen to integrate into francophone Quebec, Haitian migrants introduced new perspectives into a changing public sphere during decades of political turbulence. By turning his attention to the ideas and activities of Haitian taxi drivers, exiled priests, aspiring authors, dissident intellectuals, and feminist activists, Mills reconsiders the historical actors of Quebec intellectual and political life, and challenges the traditional tendency to view migrants as peripheral to Quebec history. Ranging from political economy to discussions about sexuality, A Place in the Sun demonstrates the ways in which Haitian migrants opened new debates, exposed new tensions, and forever altered Quebec society.

Why we're taking notice: Mills' first book, The Empire Within: Postcolonial Thought and Political Activism in Sixties Montreal, received the Quebec Writers' Federation First Book Award in 2010 as well as an Honourable Mention for the Canadian Historical Association's Sir John A. MacDonald Award in 2011.


Book Cover The Stone Thrower

The Stone Thrower, by Jael Ealey Richardson and illustrated by Matt James (OUT IN MAY)

About the book: The African-American football player Chuck Ealey grew up in a segregated neighborhood of Portsmouth, Ohio. Against all odds, he became an incredible quarterback. But despite his unbeaten record in high school and university, he would never play professional football in the United States.

Chuck Ealey grew up poor in a racially segregated community that was divided from the rest of town by a set of train tracks, but his mother assured him that he wouldn’t stay in Portsmouth forever. Education was the way out, and a football scholarship was the way to pay for that education. So despite the racist taunts he faced at all the games he played in high school, Chuck maintained a remarkable level of dedication and determination. And when discrimination followed him to university and beyond, Chuck Ealey remained undefeated.

Why we're taking notice: Richardson, who is Chuck Ealey's daughter, first told her father's story in her memoir/biography The Stone Thrower: A Daughter's Lessons, a Father's Life (and check out her guest post for us on how her father's football advice aided her writing process). And now she renders that story perfectly in picture book form with a book whose text is a pleasure to read aloud and with subject matter (what with trains and footballs and triumphing over adversity) that will hold young readers wrapt. 


Book Cover Change of Heart

Change of Heart, by Alice Walsh and illustrated by Erin Bennett Banks (OUT IN MAY)

About the book: The remarkable story of honourary Newfoundlander Lanier Phillips, who survived a shipwreck during the Second World War and went on to become a civil rights activist, is told for children in this heartwarming, vibrantly illustrated picture book.

Why we're taking notice: Phillips became the US Navy's first Black Sonar Technician and was active in the Civil Rights movement, for which he was given Honorary Membership in the Order of Newfoundland and Labrador in 2011. Check out the This American Life story on his life. A biography for older readers was published in 2014. 

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