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The Kids Book of Black Canadian History

by Rosemary Sadlier, Wang Qijun, illus.

The celebration of Black History Month every February challenges teachers and librarians to find materials on a largely invisible part of Canada’s past. This new Kids Can title will be a boon for them and others. Sadlier, a Toronto writer and sociologist and president of the Ontario Black History society, takes pains to present blacks in Canada as strong, resilient people rather than victims. She champions Canada’s many black leaders, politicians, athletes, and artists – yet she doesn’t shrink from describing many of their experiences as “difficult” and “disappointing.” Canada provided a safe haven for fleeing slaves but was slow to extend full human rights to the newcomers. Many finally abandoned a country they found cold in both climate and compassion. After the Civil War, we learn, “about two-thirds of the Black people in Canada returned to the United States, hoping for a better life.” At least we have improved as a civil society, Sadlier writes, because we have put laws in place to discourage racial discrimination.

Sadlier sets black history in an easily digestible context of world history and geography, filling in general knowledge that kids may lack. She takes us back to the great African Kingdom of Kush in 800 BC, on through slavery in New France and British Canada, and successive waves of black immigration. Two-page spreads open up such topics as black Loyalists and black soldiers in the world wars. Among the book’s many strengths are a detailed index and timeline.

Qijun’s illustrations, like Sadlier’s text, stress community and cheerful endurance. His cross-section of a slave ship, however, quietly conveys what a living hell those voyages must have been.