Stories to Connect Us

A new reading resource introduces stories relevant to the cultures, experiences and Identities of Black Canadians

Jean Walrond not only finds personal joy in reading books, she believes in the power of the stories they hold.

“Reading about individuals gives you a pathway into an individual’s culture,” says Walrond, who is a retired sociology professor from Concordia University of Edmonton and president, researcher and educator at Sickle Cell Foundation of Alberta. She is Black, a mother of two and grandmother of one. In the Spring of 2020, like many other parents and grandparents, she was suddenly responsible for homeschooling her seven-year-old grandson. Until that time, she says, she had not realized just how much teachers were responsible for in terms of the content presented in the classroom. When she looked for resources for her grandson, she discovered a distinct lack of culturally diverse stories.

She reached out to the Edmonton Public Library (EPL) with the idea of creating a resource guide for teachers, parents and educators that would be relevant to the cultures, experiences and identities of Black Canadians. It would help educators diversify their classrooms and spark conversations about race, diversity, discrimination and culture.

She received a warm reception from EPL, but the project needed funding. Thankfully, Edmonton Community Foundation (ECF) made it happen with a $61,600 grant to hire university students to assist in reading and reviewing the books to ensure they were a good fit for the resource.

“Without the financial support of ECF, the initiative would not have been completed,” states Walrond.

The result is African and Caribbean Canadian Books in Colour, a resource for teachers and students from kindergarten to Grade 12.

“We should have more Black heritage education in the classroom,” says Walrond. “Schooling for all individuals is best when we know or learn things about each other.”

One of EPL’s community librarians, Ariel Kleber, eagerly came forward to assist in the creation of the resource guide. Kleber started by compiling a list of almost 500 books that matched established criteria. The criteria stipulated that the books be written by Black authors or by people who are familiar with Black culture. They also had to have been positively reviewed in a critical journal, been award- winning or nominated for an award, or recommended by the Canadian Children’s Book Centre or the Canadian Library Association.

Walrond and four university students split the reading of the books and met once a week for 15 weeks to discuss them. What came out of those discussions was that the reviewers were looking for books that they would have liked to have read when they were younger.

“[We want to] reduce the incidence of racial discrimination,” adds Walrond.

African and Caribbean Canadian Books in Colour features more than 300 fiction and non-fiction books. EPL bought five copies of each of the 300 books for its holdings. Walrond hopes to expand the project worldwide.

In summer 2022, the African and Caribbean Canadian Books in Colour resource guide received the Minister’s Award for Public Library Service. Walrond advises young people to read more books about different people.

“When you know more about each other, it’s very difficult for you to feel negative about each other,” she says. “Their stories become your stories.”

This article comes from the Winter 2022 edition of Legacy in Action. Read the full issue.