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Children's Nonfiction Social Activists

The Trailblazing Life of Viola Desmond

A Civil Rights Icon

by (author) Rachel Kehoe

illustrated by Chelsea Charles

with Wanda Robson

Orca Book Publishers
Initial publish date
Sep 2023
Social Activists, Prejudice & Racism, Civil & Human Rights
  • Hardback

    Publish Date
    Sep 2023
    List Price
  • eBook

    Publish Date
    Sep 2023
    List Price

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Recommended Age, Grade, and Reading Levels

  • Age: 9 to 12
  • Grade: 4 to 7
  • Reading age: 9 to 12


Years before Rosa Parks famously refused to give up a bus seat in Montgomery, Alabama, Viola Desmond took a similar stand against racial segregation in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia.

On November 8, 1946, she was arrested for refusing to move from the "whites-only" section of a movie theater. Her heroic act inspired Black community leaders and made her a symbol of courage in the fight against inequality. This story of Viola's life is based on rare interviews with her sister Wanda Robson, who spent her life championing her sister's story and was successful in getting Viola a posthumous pardon that recognized she was innocent of any crime. From their childhood in Nova Scotia to Viola's career as a teacher in a segregated school and, later, her role as a pioneer in Black beauty culture, young readers are introduced to the girl and the woman who went on to become the face of the civil-rights movement in Canada.

The epub edition of this title is fully accessible.

About the authors

Rachel Kehoe is an avid reader, traveler and photographer who has lived in Australia, Europe and Hong Kong. She has written for Muse, Faces and Science News for Students. Rachel lives in Burlington, Ontario.

Rachel Kehoe's profile page

CHELSEA CHARLES has illustrated numerous children’s books including The Hockey Jersey. Her work has appeared in the Washington Post, Reader’s Digest, the Globe and Mail, the Walrus and Refinery29 and on SportsNet. She lives in Brampton, Ontario.

Chelsea Charles' profile page

The late Wanda Robson was a well-known storyteller, author, community activist and unceasing crusader in seeking justice for her older sister Viola Desmond, who was wrongly arrested in 1946 for sitting in the "white only" section of the Roseland Theatre in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia. In 2010 she published Sister to Courage: Stories from the World of Viola Desmond. Wanda was a longtime resident of North Sydney, Nova Scotia, where she lived with her husband, Joe, until she passed away in 2022.

Wanda Robson's profile page


  • Commended, Children’s Book Council & National Council for Social Studies Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People
  • Commended, Ontario Library association (OLA) Best Bets

Editorial Reviews

“[Viola Desmond] inspired black people to keep fighting for their rights in Canada. A great read about this civil rights icon who now appears on the Canadian ten-dollar bill.”

Children's Literature Comprehensive Database (CLCD)

“A welcome addition to the titles about Black Canadians… Wanda [Robson’s] memories and reflections on Viola’s life bring a personal perspective to the story.”

Canadian Teacher Magazine

“This colourfully illustrated biography tells [Desmond’s] courageous story with firsthand recollections from her younger sister Wanda Robson…A solid, well-sourced addition to biographies on Black women civil rights leaders.”


“Informed with the late Wanda Robson’s memories of her admired sister Viola, Kehoe writes what will be the go-to biography for this age level for a long time to come…All public libraries and middle schools will want to add this biography to their collections. More than a biography of a social justice activist, it exposes the context of racial discrimination in Nova Scotia and Canada, and it highlights the entrepreneurial success of a trailblazing Black woman and her rich legacy. Highly recommended.”

CM: Canadian Review of Materials

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