Books for Children who are Black Like Me
by Michelle Joseph, B. Ed.
When I first found out I was pregnant in 1995, I purchased the book Mufaro's Beautiful Daughters: An African Tale, opens a new window by John Steptoe. I did not know if I was having a daughter or son, but I wanted my child to see picture books that had characters with black skin, just like them and me. I had a daughter! Three years later I had a son! Over the years I purchased many Essence/Golden Books, opens a new window brand books that also had main characters who look like me and my children. They learned to count, their ABCs, colors and even about emotions with characters who reflected their identity. And No Diapers for Baby!, opens a new window by Denise Lewis Patrick made toilet training so much easier as the little girl with dark skin learned how to use the potty. So Much, opens a new window by Trish Cooke is a terrific book about how a young child is loved by the entire family. It includes the colloquial language that represents part of the African Caribbean culture.
As a child, I do not recall having any books with black lead characters in them, they were often the maid or the caretaker, and I was a bookworm at an early age. I was fortunate enough to have a Black Baby Alive doll in the mid ‘70s. But only a few stories.
As an elementary teacher, I have used the book about emotions many times throughout my 32-year career. I have also shared the other books so that my students would see Black characters in literature. A Day With No Words, opens a new window by Tiffany Hammond, opens a new window, helps explain to families how communication can come in many different forms, not only with words. When I was a middle school teacher, I loved to read, The Skin I'm In, opens a new window by Sharon G. Flake, opens a new window to students. It shares a tale about a group of Black students figuring out life while in middle school. It deals with friendships, bullying, hardships, and personal growth. It even has a character from an interracial family.
Now, as adults, my sisters and I make it a point to search out books by African Canadian or African American authors. We enjoy characters who are Black and successful like us in the novels we read. Novels by Jasmine Guillory, opens a new window top our list! She often writes about characters who are in interracial personal relationships or have social groups that are a mix of many diverse cultures. The Wedding Date, opens a new window is the beginning of an extensive list of books written by Ms. Guillory. Being Canadian, Africville, opens a new window by Jeffrey Colvin, depicts lives with roots that started in the Nova Scotia area called Africville and continues over many generations. Having visited Africville myself many times over the last decade, this book was one that I could make text to life and text to world connections with.
Willie O'Ree, opens a new window, Viola Desmond, opens a new window and John Ware, opens a new window are three African Caribbean Canadian Legends that I enjoy sharing information about with students. While some of the biographies are written by White authors, Viola Desmond Won't be Budged, opens a new window is written by Jody Nyasha Warner who hails from Hamilton, Ontario, Canada and has Trinidad and Tobago ancestry. Bonnie Farmer’s Oscar Lives Next Door: A Story Inspired by Oscar Peterson's Childhood, opens a new window, is a fictional picture book about one of Canada’s Jazz Legends!
Young children of African Caribbean backgrounds today have greater opportunities to see themselves reflected in today’s literature than I did, and I am very happy for them! Given that French is a primary language for many African people, it is great that some of these books are also available in that language! Thank you RDPL for enhancing your African American selection of books.
Happy reading, everyone!
Also be sure to check out Stories & More with the African Caribbean Centre of Central Alberta, opens a new window and RDPL, happening every Saturday in February 2024!
Check out some of Michelle's favourites below!