A Guest Post by Irene Luxbacher on Illustrating Malaika’s Costume

Only the brightest coloured scraps of paper and the most vibrant foliage would do when it came to illustrating Malaika’s Costume. A spirited girl like Malaika and the festive celebration she longed to dance in inspired intensely colourful backgrounds in my mind’s eye…

Irene Luxbacher Malaika's CostumeI began the illustrations for Malaika’s Costume by first sketching out the look and feel of the characters in the book. First Malaika and then her grandmother… My sketches are usually in pencil and ink and sometimes watercolour. I then started painting lots of different textured backgrounds with acrylic paints on canvas. But because Malaika’s story was so rich and vibrant, I decided to work in oils as well. The richness of thick, buttery oils seemed appropriate when rendering the lush foliage surrounding Malaika’s home and community, and I felt it would serve as inspiration for equally vivid carnival scenes.

Irene Luxbacher Malaika's CostumeWhen I settled on a colour scheme I was happy with, I scanned all my drawings and paintings into my computer and started playing around with different compositions. Incorporating the letter paper with Malaika’s doodles into the art was a happy accident that occurred during this part of the process. I think my favourite part of working on any illustration is allowing for the possibility of surprise. Just when I think I know how a page is going to look, I stumble on a different texture, pattern or swatch of colour that changes everything!

Irene Luxbacher Malaika's Costume

Just like Malaika, I suppose, creating a beautiful costume out of a collection of fabric pieces and her grandmother’s old costume, I felt proud as a peacock to lend my collection of drawings, paintings and collage materials to such a beautiful celebration. I’m so happy I was invited to this party and hope I did Malaika, her grandmother (and their wonderful creator, Nadia Hohn) proud!

Irene Luxbacher is an artist and author living in Toronto, Canada. With more than fifteen years’ experience as an illustrator, Irene has received numerous awards for her children’s instructional and picture books. Some of her awards include the 2003 National Parenting Publications Gold Award, the 2004 Disney Book Award and the 2007 Ontario Library Association Award. In 2009/10 Irene made the USBBY Outstanding International Books Honor List and was a finalist for the Governor General’s Literary Award, both for her illustrations in Andrew Larsen’s The Imaginary Garden.

Miss Lou — Guest Post by Nadia L. Hohn

For Women’s History Month we’re dedicating our March posts to women and their stories.

My first introduction to Louise Bennett-Coverely, also known as Miss Lou, was in a library book called Mango Spice and its accompanying tape recording. These materials were filled with many Jamaican folk songs arranged or written by Miss Lou, as well as music from other Caribbean islands. My younger sister and I were children at the time and were so excited to finally find a book that reflected our culture and sounded the way we spoke at home. Using these materials, we memorized the songs as I fumbled their melodies on the piano. Hearing our efforts jogged the memories of our parents who immigrated to Canada from Jamaica in the early 1970s. With nostalgia and smiles on their faces, they told us of Miss Lou and her radio show, which they listened to as children.

Nadia L. Hohn, author of Malaika's CostumeEnough cannot be written about Miss Lou’s contribution to Jamaican arts and culture. Born in Kingston, Jamaica, on September 7, 1919, Louise Bennett-Coverley embodies warmth, creativity and humour. Her impact has been felt throughout the Caribbean diaspora and the world. Her poems at times play on language; others comment on race, class and colonization – like calypso songs with political lyrics – harkening the African oral tradition that Jamaicans inherited. She shared the mento folk songs, proverbs and stories of Jamaica in her books, onstage, and on her radio show and Ring Ding, her children’s television show. Miss Lou added pioneer in the Jamaican pantomime tradition, drama teacher, playwright and actress to her credit. She lived in the United Kingdom, United States and spent the last twenty years of her life in Canada, where she died in 2006.

When I was asked to write about Women’s History Month for this blog, I thought instantly of Miss Lou. Although I never met her, I would have loved to. Like her, I am a teacher, an author, a budding playwright, and I love to sing and have performed Caribbean folk songs dressed in traditional costumes. Miss Lou performed in Jamaican Creole at a time when speaking the language was discouraged. Thanks to her, it was embraced internationally and she created spaces for poets like Mutabaruka and Linton Kwesi Johnson, and singers like Bob Marley and Harry Belafonte to centralize and popularize Jamaican English, Creole and patois in their work. In Canada, poets like d’bi.young, Lillian Allen and Clifton Joseph perform in this tradition. My first picture book, Malaika’s Costume, is written in “patois lite”— what I call written English that conveys the rhythm and candor of Caribbean creole yet retains the traditional spellings and grammar of English words. We owe all this to Miss Lou’s legacy.

Nadia L. Hohn, author of Malaika's CostumePerhaps one of the things that has made Miss Lou even more special to me is something that she shares with millions of women. For many women in cultures around the world, womanhood is defined by motherhood. Louise Bennett-Coverley could not experience childbirth nor have a biological child due to lack of technology in the field of fertility science during her lifetime. As a young woman, Louise Bennett had a hysterectomy—the removal or partial removal of her uterus. Despite infertility, Louise Bennett did become a mother. Along with her husband, Eric Coverley, she adopted his son Fabian whom they raised, and took in children from her community. Miss Lou was an “other mother” — a term which refers to women, “aunties”, big sisters, family friends, older cousins, grandmothers, who have taken on roles to assist in the raising of children — who nurtured children regardless of biological relation, a common occurrence across the African diaspora on the continent, the Americas and in the Caribbean. It takes a village to raise a child, says an old African proverb. Miss Lou became the village. As she redefined family and womanhood, Miss Lou displayed generosity throughout her life, gracing us with a legacy of books, poetry and videos. Still today, Miss Lou inspires and nourishes growth through her words, arts and people, and has given us a love and appreciation for a language and culture as rich as that of Jamaica and the Caribbean.

Thank you, Miss Lou, for all of the many gifts you have given to this world and for being a phenomenal woman. In your words, may we all “walk good.”

Nadia L. Hohn is a writer, musician and educator. The manuscript of Malaika’s Costume, her first picture book, won the Helen Isobel Sissons Canadian Children’s Story Award. She is also the author of two forthcoming non-fiction titles, Music and Media Studies, part of the Sankofa series, which won the Moonbeam Children’s Book Award for Multicultural Non-Fiction. She lives in Toronto, where she teaches French, music and the arts at an alternative elementary school.

New Releases from Groundwood this March

We made it! It’s finally time to celebrate some new books, and we’ve got quite the selection this March; familiar faces, many new, and a couple favourites reissued in paperback.


Buddy and Earl Go Exploring
by Marueen Fergus, illustrated by Carey Sookocheff
Available: March 1

Buddy and Earl are safely tucked in for the night; Buddy on his blanket and Earl in his cage. But just as Buddy settles in for a nice, long sleep, Earl says it’s time to say “Bon voyage.”

Soon these mismatched pals are at it again, exploring the wilds of the kitchen and defending a lovely lady hedgehog — who may or may not be Mom’s hairbrush — from imminent danger. When they’ve finally vanquished the greatest monster of all — the vacuum cleaner — it’s time for some well-earned shut-eye.

This second book in the Buddy and Earl series reunites this odd and loveable animal couple: a dog who likes to play by the rules and a hedgehog who knows no limits.

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Malaika’s Costume
by Nadia L. Hohn, illustrated by Irene Luxbacher
Available: March 1

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.

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Tokyo Digs a Garden
by Jon-Erik Lappano & Kellen Hatanaka
Available: March 1

Tokyo lives in a small house between giant buildings with his family and his cat, Kevin. For years, highways and skyscrapers have been built up around the family’s house where once there were hills and trees. Will they ever experience the natural world again?

One day, an old woman offers Tokyo seeds, telling him they will grow into whatever he wishes. Tokyo and his grandfather are astonished when the seeds grow into a forest so lush that it takes over the entire city overnight. Soon the whole city has gone wild, with animals roaming where cars once drove. But is this a problem to be surmounted, or a new way of living to be embraced?

With Tokyo Digs a Garden, Jon-Erik Lappano and Kellen Hatanaka have created a thoughtful and inspiring fable of environmentalism and imagination.

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The White Cat and the Monk
by Jo Ellen Bogart, illustrated by Sydney Smith
Available: March 1

A monk leads a simple life. He studies his books late into the evening and searches for truth in their pages. His cat, Pangur, leads a simple life, too, chasing prey in the darkness. As night turns to dawn, Pangur leads his companion to the truth he has been seeking.

The White Cat and the Monk is a retelling of the classic Old Irish poem “Pangur Bán.” With Jo Ellen Bogart’s simple and elegant narration and Sydney’s Smith’s classically inspired images, this contemplative story pays tribute to the wisdom of animals and the wonders of the natural world.

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Arroz con leche/Rice Pudding
by Jorge Argueta, illustrated by Fernando Vilela
Paperback Reissue
Available: March 1

Now available in paperback, Arroz con leche / Rice Pudding is the second title of Jorge Argueta’s popular bilingual Cooking Poems series, celebrating the joys of preparing, eating and sharing food.

From sprinkling the rice into the pot, to adding a waterfall of milk, cinnamon sticks, salt stars and sugar snow, Jorge Argueta’s recipe is not only easy to follow, it is a poetic experience. The lively illustrations by Fernando Vilela feature an enthusiastic young cook who finds no end of joy in making and then slurping up the rice pudding with his family.

As in all the titles in this series, Arroz con leche / Rice Pudding conveys the pleasure of making something delicious to eat for people you really love. A great book for families to enjoy together.


by Jorge Argueta, illustrated by Margarita Sada
Paperback Reissue
Available: March 1

Following on the success of Sopa de frijoles / Bean Soup and Arroz con leche / Rice Pudding is Jorge Argueta’s third book in his bilingual cooking poem series — Guacamole — with very cute, imaginative illustrations by Margarita Sada.

Guacamole originated in Mexico with the Aztecs and has long been popular in North America, especially in recent years due to the many health benefits of avocados. This version of the recipe is easy to make, calling for just avocados, limes, cilantro and salt. A little girl dons her apron, singing and dancing around the kitchen as she shows us what to do. Poet Jorge Argueta sees beauty, magic and fun in everything around him — avocados are like green precious stones, salt falls like rain, cilantro looks like a little tree and the spoon that scoops the avocado from its skin is like a tractor.

As in the previous cooking poems, Guacamole conveys the pleasure of making something delicious and healthy to eat for people you really love. A great book for families to enjoy together.


Outside In
by Sarah Ellis
Paperback Reissue
Available: March 1

Lynn’s life is full — choir practice, school, shopping for the perfect jeans, and dealing with her free-spirited mother. Then one day her life is saved by a mysterious girl named Blossom, who introduces Lynn to her own world and family — both more bizarre, yet somehow more sane, than Lynn’s own.

Blossom’s family is a small band of outcasts and eccentrics who live secretly in an ingenious bunker beneath a city reservoir. The Underlanders forage and trade for the things they need (“Is it useful or lovely?”), living off the things “Citizens” throw away. Lynn is enchanted and amazed. But when she inadvertently reveals their secret, she is forced to take measure of her own motives and lifestyle, as she figures out what it really means to be a family, and a friend.

Classic Sarah Ellis, this novel is smart, rich, engaging and insightful.

Win a Copy of Malaika’s Costume



Happy Carnival! Happy Mardi Gras!

To celebrate, we’re giving away a copy of the upcoming title, Malaika’s Costume by Nadia Hohn, illustrated by Irene Luxbacher!

The contest runs from February 9th to February 16th. A winner will be randomly chosen. Fill out the form below to enter!

Celebrate Black History Month with Malaika’s Costume and The Stone Thrower

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.

Nadia Hohn: The Greatest Carnival Ever Nadia Hohn: The Greatest Carnival Ever Nadia Hohn: The Greatest Carnival Ever

Nadia HohnCarnival 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.

MALAIKA’S COSTUME Written by Nadia HohnAbout 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.

THE STONE THROWER Written by Jael Ealey RichardsonAbout 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.

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