Black Writers’ Series: Focus on Kids’ Books

The All Lit Up Black Writers’ Series wraps with a look at five Black writers and/or illustrators working in the kids literary space. Including environmentally-focused picture books to historical nonfiction, share the wealth of Black writing talent with lit lovers of all ages.


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The illustrator: Shanthony Exum

Shanthony Exum, also known musically as Miss Eaves, is a Montreal-based multimedia artist who sits at the intersections of activism and art. With a passion for celebrating confident femmes and non-binary folk, Exum creatively uses her art to advocate for feminist issues, sexual liberation, self-love and climate change. Her artwork, specifically musically, has been lauded by The New York Times, NPR, Billboard, New York Magazine, Elle, Glamour, Jezebel, and more, with her viral sensation “Thunder Thighs” landing on lists of feminist anthems alongside legends like Beyoncé.

The book: Dear Humans (by Nisha Coleman, Linda Leith Publishing)

In Dear Humans, a playfully-illustrated picture book by Nisha Coleman and illustrated by Exum, animals around the world notice the damage being done to their various habitats and realize it’s the humans that are to blame. Far from an admonishment, Dear Humans encourages its little human readers to act through the letter the animals write in the story, and undo the harm to the planet before it’s too late.

The writer/illustrator: Bushra Junaid

An artist, curator, and arts administrator, Bushra Junaid was born in Montreal to Jamaican and Nigerian parents, and raised in St. John’s, NL. She has exhibited her work across Canada, curated numerous exhibitions, and illustrated Adwoa Badoe’s Nana’s Cold Days (Groundwood Books, 2009). She lives and works in Toronto, ON.

The book: The Possible Lives of W.H., Sailor (Running the Goat)

Junaid’s beautifully written and illustrated middle-grade book marries poetic narrative with real-life history. W.H. is an unknown sailor, the remains of whom were discovered in the late 1980s in Labrador. Archaeologists were able to determine that the remains were male, and of African heritage; Junaid’s book imagines in words and pictures what the rest of his life might have been with tenderness, while also shining a light on African experiences in North America during W.H.’s lifetime.

The writer: Shanice Nicole

Shanice Nicole is a Black feminist educator, facilitator, writer, and (out)spoken word artist. She believes that everyone has the power to make change and dreams of a freer world for us all.

The book: Dear Black Girls (Metonymy Press)

Both a call to action and a poetic reflection, Shanice Nicole lends her poetic voice to this celebration of everything that Black girls are and will come to be. Dear Black Girls is vibrantly illustrated by Kezna Dalz, and triumphantly declares that being a Black girl is a gift, one she is thankful for every day. (Bonus: you can hear Shanice read this book here.)

The writers: Adrienne Shadd and Afua Cooper

Adrienne Shadd is a consultant, curator, and author, who has been recognized with the William P. Hubbard Award for Race Relations and the J.C. Holland Award for her research and writing.

Afua Cooper, Halifax’s seventh Poet Laureate, is the author of five books of poetry, including the critically acclaimed Copper Woman and Other Poems and two novels, The Hanging of Angelique: The Untold Story of Slavery in Canada and the Burning of Old Montreal, and My Name is Phillis Wheatley. A founder of the Canadian Dub poetry movement, Afua Cooper was instrumental in organizing three international dub poetry festivals between 2004 and 2009.

The book: The Underground Railroad: Next Stop, Toronto! (Dundurn Press)

Along with historian Karolyn Smardz Frost, Shadd and Cooper originally wrote The Underground Railroad in 2002; a text combining sweeping history and personal stories of freedom seekers who found their new home in Toronto, free from slavery. Of course, free from slavery didn’t mean free from struggle, and the authors do much to educate young readers about how freedom seekers in Toronto combatted racism in their adopted city while building a strong community. This new edition, released 20 years after the original, includes updated information about a 2015 archaeological dig in Toronto and further emphasizes personal journeys.

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That’s a wrap on the Black writers’ series! Catch up on all five instalments and discover great Black writers right here.