In 1990, scholar Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop wrote that books are mirrors, reflecting our own lives back at us, and that reading is therefore a means of self-affirmation.
"Literature transforms human experience and reflects it back to us, and in that reflection we can see our own lives and experiences as part of the larger human experience. Reading, then, becomes a means of self-affirmation, and readers often seek their mirrors in books." –Rudine Sims Bishop
With the recent ban on books in the U.S., we realized that many of the titles on the ban list were part of our school curriculum. During a formative time in our lives when we were less conscious of choice in these matters, we are grateful that our community is one that embraced diversity and taught us to do so as well.
Canadian history is challenged by censorship moments too, but as adults with a voice and option to exercise choice, we intend to learn from those mistakes, do better, and teach our children to do the same.
It is undeniable that representation matters. When children see images of characters that look just like them, that reflect their identity, it affirms wonderful ideas they might not have thought possible otherwise. “That could be me. I can do that. I can dare to dream. Anything is possible for me.”
Moreover, diverse representations of characters in books are beneficial to all readers, it:
- Increases awareness of social practices and values of other cultures
- Encourages children across all backgrounds to interact with one another
- Helps readers to better understand world issues
- Encourages unity and empathy
Check out our recommended reading list of books by Black Canadian authors and illustrators to educate and empower our children during Black History Month, and beyond.
1. My Hair is Beautiful by Shauntay Grant
(Ages 0-3 years)
Natural, knotty, fluffy, frizzy, twisted, tangled, pony, puffed!
A celebration of natural hair, from afros to cornrows and everything in between, My Hair is Beautiful is a joyful board book with a powerful message of self-love.
Governor General's Award-nominated author Shauntay Grant brings her unique spoken-word style to this fun read-aloud, featuring minimalist text and vibrant photos of toddlers sporting fresh dos, and a mirror to reflect your own baby's beauty. (From Nimbus Publishing Limited)
2. Where Are You, Agnes? By Tessa McWatt
(Ages 4-8 years)
Agnes Martin was born on the Canadian prairies in the early twentieth century. In this imagining of her childhood from acclaimed author Tessa McWatt, Agnes spends her days surrounded by wheat fields, where her grandfather encourages her to draw what she sees and feels around her: the straight horizon, the feeling of the sun, the movement of birds' wings and the shapes she sees in the wheat.
One day, Agnes's family moves to a house in a big city. The straight horizon and wheat fields are gone, but Agnes continues to draw what she sees and feels around her. No one except her grandfather understands what she is trying to capture — not her mother, who asks, "Where are you, Agnes?" when she sees her daughter engrossed in her drawing; nor her siblings, who think her art is ugly. Still, Agnes keeps trying to capture what she sees inside her mind. (From Groundwood Books)
3. I Promise by Catherine Hernandez
(Ages 3-8 years)
I Promise captures with love and honesty the intimate moments of parenting in all their messy glory — from dealing with a kid who doesn't want to brush their teeth to looking under the bed for monsters to cuddling after a long day.
This charming picture book showcases the many shapes, sizes and colours that families come in, emphasizing that every queer family starts with the sacred promise to love a child. (From Arsenal Pulp Press)
4. Viola Desmond Won't Be Budged by Jody Nyasha Warner
(Ages 5-9 years)
Viola Desmond was one brave woman! 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. 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.
Viola's determination gave strength and inspiration to her community at the time. She is an unsung hero of one of Canada's oldest and most established black communities. 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 the process of bringing an end to racial segregation in Canada. (From Groundwood Books)
5. Malaika's Costume by Nadia L. Hohn
(Ages 3-7 years)
It’s Carnival time. The first Carnival since Malaika’s mother moved to Canada to find a good job and provide for Malaika and her grandmother. Her mother promised she would send money for a costume, but when the money doesn’t arrive, will Malaika still be able to dance in the parade?
Disappointed and upset at her grandmother’s hand-me-down costume, Malaika leaves the house, running into Ms. Chin, the tailor, who offers Malaika a bag of scrap fabric. With her grandmother’s help, Malaika creates a patchwork rainbow peacock costume, and dances proudly in the parade. (From Groundwood Books)
Rudine Sims Bishop, The Ohio State University. "Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Glass Doors" originally appeared in Perspectives: Choosing Books for the Classroom. Vo. 6, no. 3. Summer 1990.