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Africville

by Eva Campbell (ill.); Shauntay Grant

In Africville, a child visits the annual Africville Reunion/Festival and her imagination transports her back to a time before the historic Black community was razed by the city of Halifax in the name of “urban renewal.”

This is Africville at its liveliest. Children play football in the field, go rafting on the pond, and gather around evening bonfires. The village is self-sufficient; the land and nearby harbour feed residents well, offering up cod, mussels, and berries. But daydreams only last for so long. The main character ultimately returns to the festival, where some of that vibrancy is captured once again, if only for a day.

Shauntay Grant’s writing is graceful and she chooses her words carefully. She reaches out to young readers and invites them in, asking them to join the main character as she explores the village where Grant’s great-grandmother once lived.

Visually, Africville is gorgeous. Eva Campbell’s illustrations are arresting; the colours are warm and inviting, and her painterly style enhances the dreamlike quality of the story. She brings Grant’s story to life, obviously dedicating a significant amount of time to researching the village’s history in order to capture the essence of the community.

For at least part of its 150-year existence, Africville wasn’t quite this idyllic. Before the community was destroyed in the late 1960s, it experienced one injustice after another. Residents paid taxes but didn’t receive basic needs, including running water or emergency services. And the buildings that popped up nearby, including a slaughterhouse and an infectious diseases hospital, made matters worse.

This dark bit of history is absent from the pages of the story, and as a result the book remains a celebration of a close-knit, thriving community. But at the end of the book, Grant includes a brief summary of the fuller history, along with photos and recommended further reading.

The approach makes this picture book a great option for parents looking for a gentle bedtime read and for teachers who want to share not only the history of Africville but lessons in peaceful community.