Critically-acclaimed Jamaican-Canadian children's author Nadia Hohn has spent her career celebrating Black stories, from her award-winning debut picture book Malaika's Costume (House of Anansi) to her early reader book Harriet Tubman: Freedom Fighter (HarperCollins Canada). Her most recent is A Likkle Miss Lou (Owl Kids), a beautifully-rendered picture book about the legendary Jamaican poet and entertainer Louise Bennett Coverley.
Featuring vivid, lively illustration by Eugenie Fernandes, A Likkle Miss Lou follows the school-age Louise as she discovers a love of words, particularly the sounds of Patois being spoken all around her. Encouraged by her teachers to write in a plainer way, she can't ignore her natural attraction to the bouncy, musical cadence of her homeland. Finding herself pulled between the two, Lou must dig deep to find her true voice.
A powerful lesson on the artistic importance of individuality and self-expression, A Likkle Miss Lou will charm parents and kids alike.
We're incredibly thrilled to have Nadia join the Open Book team as our February 2020 writer-in-residence, sharing her thoughts and insights on the WIR page for the duration of the month. We're excited to hear what Nadia has to say and we're sure you will be too!
Get to know Nadia by reading our interview with her below as part of our WAR: Writers as Readers series, where she discusses the authors and books that have shaped her love of reading over the years.
She tells us which literary trope she still has a soft spot for, why she wants to read more Caribbean literature, and how untangling a mystery in a Sesame Street book set her on a path as a young reader.
WAR: Writers as Readers with Nadia Hohn:
The first book I remember reading on my own:
As a young girl, when I lived at Jane and Finch, my mother would practice reading with me. The first book I remember reading by myself, at about age four or five (apparently my mother said I was an early reader) would be a Sesame Street book in the Golden Books imprint. Reading this book took so much effort and the last sentence was Grover saying, “I am TRIED.” Tried? I am tried? What did that mean? When I re-read it about two years later, I realized that last sentence was “I am TIRED.” I noticed that my reading had improved.
A book I feel like I should have read, but haven't:
More Octavia Butler books and Toni Morrison’s earlier classics. As a Black woman, I listen to my fellow writing peers laud these authors and their influences and I feel like I missed something. I do not have degrees in English literature, critical or creative writing, nor African-American studies, yet I feel that given the subject matter I write about I should be well-versed in these works. I also feel like I should be reading more Caribbean literature, especially since this region features so prominently in my own writing and forms part of my identity. Some of the classic books in English and Canadian literature I have never read yet, but I am slowly working through this list.
A book I feel strongly influenced me as a writer and why:
Honey, I Love by Eloise Greenfield made me really centred on my Black girlhood. I loved its homespun poetry that was so relatable. I loved the sketches featuring Black girls with huge Afro puffs, getting their hair cornrowed, and playing on the block. I loved the rhythm and rhyme, the memories and references to dancing to music, playing jump rope, and listening to stories. Although I discovered it at 12 or 13 years old, this book probably had a younger audience focus.
My go-to recommendation when someone asks for something great to read:
Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson, Love From A to Z by SK Ali, Girl Like That by Tanaz Bhathena, Learning to Breathe by Janice Lynn Mather are all books that I recommend frequently. The last three are Canadian young adult books but set in Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Bahamas respectively. For me, these books offer very fresh approaches to storytelling and the suspense and interest sustained during the entire work was evident.
A book I loved that I think has been overlooked:
Motown & Didi by Walter Dean Myers. This is a book that I loved so very much as a teenager. I am not even sure if it is still in print. It was the first Black teen romance that I ever read. Motown was seventeen years old, rough around the edges and had been on his own for many years. He meets Didi who is all studious and proper. Then the adolescent sparks fly. Yes, it’s a predictable trope of bad boy meets good girl (like the films Lady & the Tramp, Grease, I’m In Love with a Church Girl, and even If Beale Street Could Talk which was adapted from a book). Although Motown is not “bad”, he just has been dealt a really difficult hand in life, trying to survive it. I have a weakness for a good love story where opposites attract.
The commonly-used literary trope I can always forgive:
The commonly used literary trope I can always forgive is the first-generation teen, usually an artist, trying to find their way against their immigrant parents’ traditional dreams and family roles, written by an #ownvoice author. I have read so many books in this literary trope (I am even writing one myself) but I never get tired of it, especially when it shows respect and love for the “old culture” but a way of “embracing and resolving” the new. It is part of my life story.
A possible title for my autobiography:
‘Nyam, Wuk, Pray’ (or some variation of this). If you are Caribbean or well-versed in Patois, you’ll understand the meaning, but I will stay mum on it as you may just see it.
Nadia L. Hohn is a dynamic "story lady" who has presented to audiences in Canada, United States, United Kingdom, United Arab Emirates (UAE), Jamaica, and Trinidad. From the age of six years old, Nadia L Hohn began writing stories, drawing, and making books. Her first two books, Music and Media in the Sankofa Series were published by Rubicon Publishing in 2015. Her award-winning first picture book, Malaika's Costume was published in 2016 and its sequel Malaika's Winter Carnival 2017 by Groundwood Books. Nadia is also the author of Harriet Tubman: Freedom Fighter, an early reader by Harper Collins published in December 2018. A Likkle Miss Lou: How Jamaican Poet Louise Bennett-Coverley Found Her Voice, nonfiction picture book about the performer, playwright, author, and Jamaican cultural ambassador, Louise Bennett-Coverley otherwise known as Miss Lou, will be published in 2019 (Owlkids). Nadia was 1 of 6 Black Canadian Writers to Watch in 2018 and the first SCBWI Canada East Rising Kite Diversity Scholarship recipient in 2018. Nadia will be a touring in Alberta as a presenter in the TD Canada Children's Book Week in 2019. In summer 2019, Nadia will be the writer in residence at Joy Kogawa House in Vancouver, British Columbia. Nadia is an elementary school teacher in Toronto and has taught early years music in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Nadia L. Hohn studied writing at the Highlights Foundation, Humber College School of Writers, George Brown College, and the Voices of our Nation (VONA). She holds an honours arts degree in psychology from the University of Waterloo as well as Bachelor and Master of Education degrees from the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto (OISE/UT). Nadia is currently working on two young adult novels, a play, the next Malaika... book, and others. She lives in Toronto she teaches, reads a ton, and crafts stories. She also loves to write (songs, blogs, journals, stories), play piano, cook vegan dishes, travel, study arts and cultures of the African diaspora especially Caribbean folk music, Orff music education, and run.