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.

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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