Welcome to Top Grade: CanLit for the Classroom, a blog and preview video series that features new releases from Canadian book publishers ideal for use in K-12 classrooms and school library collections. Throughout the year, we dive into new titles, highlighting relevant curriculum links and themes.
Written by secondary school teacher Spencer Miller
A stand-out Top Grade selection from 2022, Habiba Cooper Diallo’s memoir #BlackInSchool shares writings from her high school journal with intent to shed light on her experiences as a Black Canadian high school student. Detailing her grade 11 and 12 years attending school in Halifax, she documents, processes, and resists the systemic racism, microaggressions, stereotypes, and outright racism that she experienced while being Black in school in Canada.
What needs to change in the Canadian school system so it can become a safe and nurturing place for Black students? When asked this question, Habiba Cooper Diallo responded that teachers need to understand the contexts of their Black students and challenge the whitewashing of curriculum. “There’s a lot that [teachers] can do, but they have to be willing and committed to doing it. Many of them don’t want to do the work. They think it’s hard, but it’s not hard. They need to start by educating themselves,” said Diallo.
When it comes to doing the work and educating ourselves, I highly recommend teachers read children’s and young adult books on the topics of Black history and anti-racism. These books give us the language to address these topics in the classroom. Books written in a Canadian context can more specifically help Canadian teachers to understand and teach to the contexts of their students.
These recent titles from Canadian publishers are powerful resources for teachers exploring Black history in Canada and teaching anti-racism.
My Favourite Colour (ages 3-7) is a celebration of diversity and a tool for teaching young readers the names of colours. In the story, one little girl dives into her imagination and considers every colour and all the reasons that she loves the whole rainbow.
In Class: A fun, rhyming read-aloud, perfect for teaching kids the names of colours.
Up Home (ages 4-8), now available in a fifteenth-anniversary edition, is an award-winning picture book celebrating North Preston, Nova Scotia. Happy childhood memories from poet Shauntay Grant capture the warmth of one of Canada’s historical Black communities.
In Class: This book teaches young readers that the communities we live in have deep roots and important histories. Teach little readers more about the history of Black communities in Canada by pairing your reading with Shauntay Grant’s Africville.
In I Am Big (ages (6-8) a young Black hockey player finds joy in his talent and confidence in the cheers of his family, his coach, and the other players. He also looks to Black hockey legends like P.K. Subban and Joel Ward for inspiration.
In Class: Watch hockey superstar and hall-of-famer Angela James share a message to young Black hockey players.
The Possible Lives of W.H. Sailor (ages 9-12) is a poetic narrative that imagines the life of W.H., a mysterious nineteenth-century sailor whose remains were discovered in Labrador in the late 1980s. Archaeologists were able to deduce that W.H. was of African heritage and buried alone.
In Class: Visit The Canadian Encyclopedia to research and write a poem about a Black Canadian from history.
The Antiracist Kitchen: 21 Stories (and Recipes) (ages 9-12) is an anthology of stories and recipes from racialized authors about food, culture, and resistance. The stories share the role of food in fighting discrimination, reclaiming culture, and celebrating people from different backgrounds.
In Class: This Teacher’s Guide includes discussion questions and activities that encourage students to explore what it means to reclaim, resist, restore, and rejoice.
The Trailblazing Life of Viola Desmond (ages 9-12) introduces young readers to the girl and the woman who went on to become the face of the civil-rights movement in Canada. This story of Viola's life is based on interviews with her sister Wanda Robson.
In Class: Historica Canada’s Black History in Canada Education Guide is a starting point for teachers to research, learn, and prepare to teach about Black history in Canada including the civil rights movement.
When it All Syncs Up (14-18) is a debut YA novel about a Black teen dancer with dreams of landing a spot in a prestigious ballet company. Aisha faces discrimination along her dancing journey including being told she doesn’t “look” the part. The story contains positive representation, swoony romance, and a strong focus on friendship.
In Class: This Educator Guide contains activities to help student build their understanding of various forms and impacts of bullying and discrimination and how to become allies against racism.
stay up: racism, resistance, and reclaiming Black freedom (ages 14-18) mixes memoir, cultural criticism, and anti-oppressive theory to break down how white supremacy functions and deliver an empowering message to radicalized youth. Khodi Dill, a teacher himself, speaks with love and honesty to today’s youth.
In Class: This Educator Guide provides context and builds comprehension through activities designed to be completed before reading, while reading, and after reading the book.
Where They Stood: The Evolution of the Black Anglo Community in Montreal (ages 16+) features nine different essays written by young Black writers from the Black Community Resource Centre. Each essay covers a new topic local Black history such as Black immigration to the area or the contributions of the Black Anglo community during World War II.
In Class: Claiming Space, the eighth episode in the CBC’s documentary series Black Life: Untold Stories, explores the often-overlooked stories of Black settlements across Canada like Africville, N.S., and Little Burgundy in Montreal.
Spencer Miller is a teacher, writer, reader, and fan of the Toronto Raptors. He is currently pursuing graduate studies at the University of Calgary (Treaty 7). You can follow more of Spencer’s passion for books on Instagram @spencerbmiller.
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