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.

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