February is Black History Month in Canada and the United States, a time where Black History — the people, events, and contributions — is recognized, remembered, and celebrated. To mark the start of Black History Month, we asked Nadia Hohn, author of Malaika’s Costume, a story of Malaika’s first Carnival since her mother moved to Canada, and Jael Ealey Richardson, author of The Stone Thrower, which tells the inspirational story of Chuck Ealey, about the origin story behind both books.
The Origins of Malaika’s Costume
by Nadia L. Hohn
The seeds for Malaika’s Costume come from many things.
As a child, I used to write and illustrate picture books. One of the few I still have today is called The Greatest Carnival Ever. I wrote it at the age of ten and it was influenced by a kid book talk on the television show, Reading Rainbow.
Carnival in the English-speaking Caribbean started in Trinidad and although I have never been there, I attended the Caribana parade (now called Toronto Caribbean Carnival) since I was a child. I loved the festive atmosphere, costumes, and music, and I longed to be in the parade one day. (I got the chance years later in 2009, 2014, and 2015 as a grown-up.)
I wrote Malaika’s Costume for an assignment in the Writing for Children course through George Brown College in 2010. The course was held at Mabel’s Fables Children’s bookstore and is still taught by my teacher, author Ted Staunton. When I was given the picture book assignment, naturally I focused on Carnival. Yet, I wanted to tell the story from the perspective of a little girl, Malaika, set in the Caribbean and have a connection to Canada, the country in which I was born and to which my parents immigrated from Jamaica in the 1970s. As I worked on it, I soon realized that this was going to be like the stories of adults in my family and many people of Caribbean descent to the United States, UK, and Canada, which often involved years of separation from loved ones, including their children. Malaika’s Costume is a culmination of all of these things and a celebration of resilience, creativity, and resourcefulness.
About Malaika’s Costume
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.
A heartwarming story about family, community and the celebration of Carnival, Nadia Hohn’s warm and colloquial language and Irene Luxbacher’s vibrant collage-style illustrations make this a strikingly original picture book.
The Origins of The Stone Thrower
by Jael Richardson
In 2009, I wrote the memoir The Stone Thrower because I needed to know more about my dad’s story. I needed to know who he was and why he chose to move from the United States in 1972 and raise us here in Canada. A few months after the memoir came out, a teacher-friend asked me if I would turn it into a children’s book. She said there were not enough stories about African-Canadians and she wanted to be able to share important and relevant stories with her students. She said my dad was a hero and that kids should be learning about him in school. I couldn’t agree more. So I wrote it. Sometimes, I just need a bit of a nudge.
About The Stone Thrower
The African-American football player Chuck Ealey grew up in a segregated neighborhood of Portsmouth, Ohio. Against all odds, he became an incredible quarterback. But despite his unbeaten record in high school and university, he would never play professional football in the United States.
Chuck Ealey grew up poor in a racially segregated community that was divided from the rest of town by a set of train tracks, but his mother assured him that he wouldn’t stay in Portsmouth forever. Education was the way out, and a football scholarship was the way to pay for that education. So despite the racist taunts he faced at all the games he played in high school, Chuck maintained a remarkable level of dedication and determination. And when discrimination followed him to university and beyond, Chuck Ealey remained undefeated.
This inspirational story is told by Chuck Ealey’s daughter, author and educator Jael Richardson, with striking and powerful illustrations by award-winning illustrator Matt James.