Picture Books for Black History Month

Black History Month is a perfect opportunity to highlight these excellent books which celebrate Black heroes and Black culture. 

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Up Home, by Shauntay Grant and Susan Tooke

About the book: A positive, heartwarming portrayal of North Preston past and present. This touching poem from spoken-word artist, poet and CBC Radio personality Shauntay Grant portrays the Nova Scotian community of Preston. Short, staccato lines, musicality and the use of real, spoken language, and Susan Tooke's breathtaking illustrations using real models from the community, combine in a sensory experience that is sure to wow readers of all ages. Grant's memories of growing up reflect a magical place where landscape, food, history and, most of all, people come together in a community filled with love and beauty. A powerful story with positive images of one of Nova Scotia's most important black communities.

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All Aboard: Elijah McCoy's Steam Engine, by Monica Kulling and Bill Slavin

About the book: In the second of Tundra's Great Idea Series, biographies for children who are just starting to read, Monica Kulling presents the life of an extraordinary man. There were few opportunities for the son of slaves, but Elijah McCoy's dreams led him to study mechanical engineering in Scotland. He learned everything there was to know about engines—how to design them and how to build them. But when he returned to the United States to look for work at the Michigan Central Railroad, the only job Elijah could get was shoveling coal into a train's firebox. Undaunted, he went on to invent a means of oiling the engine while the train was running, changing the face of travel around the world.

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To the Rescue: Garrett Morgan Underground, by Monica Kulling and David Parkins

About the book: The son of freed slaves, Garrett Morgan was determined to have a better life than laboring in the Kentucky fields with his parents and ten 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.

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Book Cover Mr Crum's Potato Predicament

Mr. Crum's Potato Predicament, by Anne Renaud and Felicita Sala

About the book: When Filbert P. Horsefeathers walks into George Crum's restaurant, he tells the waitress, “I have a hankering for a heaping helping of potatoes.” Fine cook that he is, George prepares a serving of his most scrumptious, succulent and sublime potato wedges, only to have Filbert send them back. “Too thick,” he says. So, George makes thinner wedges. But his picky customer sends them back again. And again. Feeling a bit mischievous, George decides to use his sharpest knife to cut paper-thin potato slices, which he fries until they are crackling and then showers with salt. At last, Filbert is satisfied, proclaiming, “Perfection!” Which they are. Because, quite by accident, George Crum has invented potato chips!

This fictional picture book tale by Anne Renaud is based on a real man named George Crum, a cook in Saratoga Springs, New York, in the 1850s, who is purported to have created the first potato chip in response to a demanding customer. Included at the back of the book is a historical note with a list of sources describing the legend and the remarkable and inspiring story of Crum, a trapper of mixed Native American and African American descent, who supplied restaurants with fresh game, then became a chef and successful restauranteur himself. Felicita Sala's gorgeous illustrations accurately portray the historical period but with a lighthearted touch. They work beautifully with Renaud's playful language and quirky characters for a lively and deliciously fun read-aloud. This book is an excellent choice for lessons on inventions and inventors, history, or why we eat the foods we do.

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The Stone Thrower, by Jael Ealey Richardson and Matt James

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.

This inspirational story is told by Chuck Ealey’s daughter, author and educator Jael Richardson, with striking and powerful illustrations by award-winning illustrator Matt James.

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The Kids' Book of Black Canadian History, by Rosemary Sadlier

About the book: From the first Black person who came to Canada about 400 years ago to the most recent wave of African immigrants, Black Canadians have played an important role in our country's history. In this informative overview, kids will discover the inspiring stories and events 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 book in the acclaimed Kids Book of series offers a glimpse into an often-overlooked part of Canadian history.

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A Change of Heart, by Alice Walsh and Erin Bennett Banks

About the book: Finally, the remarkable story of honourary Newfoundlander Lanier Phillips is available for young children in this heartwarming picture book.

A young African American and the son of sharecroppers, Lanier Phillips escapes the violence, racism, and segregation of his Georgia home by joining the navy during the Second World War. But tragedy strikes the USS Truxtun one February night off the southeastern coast of Newfoundland, and Lanier is the lone Black survivor of the terrible shipwreck. Covered in oil when he arrives onshore, the community's kindness and humanity brings him back to health and changes his outlook on life. He would go on to march for Black rights with Martin Luther King, and remained forever grateful to the small town of St. Lawrence, Newfoundland.

With vibrant illustrations by celebrated artist Erin Banks, A Change of Heart vividly depicts Lanier's life-changing experiences in Newfoundland that fateful February.

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Viola Desmond Won't Be Budged, by Jody Nyasha Warner and Richard Rudnicki

About the book: "On behalf of the Nova Scotia government, I sincerely apologize to Mrs. Viola Desmond’s family and to all African Nova Scotians for the racial discrimination she was subjected to by the justice system . . . We recognize today that the act for which Viola Desmond was arrested, was an act of courage, not an offence." —Darrell Dexter, Premier of Nova Scotia, April 15, 2010

In Nova Scotia, in 1946, an usher in a movie theatre told Viola Desmond to move from her main floor seat up to the balcony. She refused to budge. Viola knew she was being asked to move because she was black. After all, she was the only black person downstairs. All the other black people were up in the balcony. In no time at all, the police arrived and took Viola to jail. The next day she was charged and fined, but she vowed to continue her struggle against such unfair rules. She refused to accept that being black meant she couldn't sit where she wanted.

Viola's determination gave strength and inspiration to her community at the time. She is an unsung hero of the North American struggle against injustice and racial discrimination whose story deserves to be widely known.

The African Canadian community in Nova Scotia is one of Canada's oldest and most established black communities. Despite their history and contributions to the province the people in this community have a long experience of racially based injustice. 

Like Claudette Colvin and Rosa Parks, who many years later, in 1955, refused to give up their bus seats in Alabama, Desmond's act of refusal awakened people to the unacceptable nature of racism and began and process of bringing an end to racial segregation in Canada.

February 15, 2018
Books mentioned in this post
All Aboard!

All Aboard!

Elijah McCoy's Steam Engine
by Monica Kulling
illustrated by Bill Slavin
edition:Paperback
also available: Hardcover
More Info
The Stone Thrower

The Stone Thrower

edition:Hardcover
also available: eBook
More Info
Viola Desmond Won't Be Budged

Viola Desmond Won't Be Budged

edition:Hardcover
also available: eBook
More Info
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