Five years ago, I became an author. My first two books, Music and Media, were published as part of the Sankofa: Black Heritage Collection series by Rubicon Publishing (2015). I was ecstatic for having fulfilled a long held childhood dream that I actually did not dream was possible again until 2009 when I began writing the kind of stories that would appeal to my then African- and Caribbean-descended students. In honour of these children that first inspired me, I am dedicating this blogpost #2 to picture books. As of writing this, I am the author of four picture books. In chronological order, they are: Malaika’s Costume, Malaika’s Costume, Malaika’s Winter Carnival, A LIKKLE MISS LOU: How Jamaican Poet Louise Bennett Coverley Found Her Voice, and Malaika’s Surprise (2021). I am also working on others. As I have been part of this publishing world and an avid reader, I have made a few observations about trends that I see in picture books that are getting the greenlight. This list is not conclusive. As you will notice, I have chosen to focus on traditionally-published Canadian books within the last few years but I have listed US books in these categories as well. This serves the purpose of giving Canadian children and young adult books much needed credit. On February 19, I will be participating in the first ever I Read Canadian Day which you could find out more about here.
For this purpose, I am shamelessly promoting Canadian books (including my own) by listing them here. I have put a (C) beside the titles written by Canadian authors, those written or published in Canada, or with at least one Canadian creator (i.e., illustrator or author). Self-published titles are listed with (C and S). I feel that it is important to list self-published titles because they are often the first paths to publication of underrepresented writers. (More on that later.)
Although I do recognize that this list does not cover all the picture book trends out there. However, I have chosen these five categories as a reflection of books that have seen in a huge number.
1. Books that Celebrate the Joy of Black Hair
By far, this trend has been overwhelmingly popular and I truly believe, it is not leaving its stamp on the publishing industry. I consider these books, the daughters of the books by mostly African-American authors from the 1980s and 1990s that celebrated Blackness on the whole— skin and lifestyle. African-American books such as The Blacker the Berry, Black Like Me, Rainbow Black, and bell hook’s Skin Again. Although, these books continue to exist, the outcropping of Black girl hair books has largely dominated and have been the most popular selling books among parents, according to Brampton’s Knowledge bookstore owner Sean Liburd. These are the kind of books I wish were around when I when the kids in my Rexdale neighbourhood laughed at my beautiful, glorious ‘fro while I waited on the porch of our townhouse for my mother to finish my sister’s hair on “wash day”. I should also mention that one of the listed books was adapted to a short film and nominated for an Oscar. I’m looking at you Hair Love.
Boonoonoonous Hair by Olive Senior, illustrated by Laura James (Tradewind Books) (C)
Written in Senior’s Jamaican patois-inflected poetic style and with bright-coloured illustrations by Antiguan-American artist Laura James, this picture book celebrates the joy and versatility of Black girls’ hair.
I Love My Hair by Shauntay Grant (Nimbus Books) (C)
In full-colour photographs of smiling faces of children with multiple shades of skin and varying textures, Halifax-based poet, author, and scholar Shauntay Grant’s board book is fit for the young child.
Some more books about this topic:
Braids by Robert Munsch, illustrated by Michael Marchenko (Scholastic Canada) (C)
What Are You Going to Do with That Hair? by Ndija Anderson, illustrated by Kaela Beals (C, S)
Curly Girls, Love Your Curls by Claudia Hamilton (C, S)
Don’t Touch My Hair and Princess Hair by Sharee Miller
Hair Love by Matthew A. Cherry, illustrated by Vashti Harrison
Happy to be Nappy by bell hooks, illustrated by Chris Raschka
I Love My Hair by Natasha Anastasia Tarpley, illustrated by E.B. Lewis
Bad Hair Does Not Exist/Pelo Malo No Existe by Sulma Arzu-Brown, illustrated by Isidra Sabio
Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut by Derrick Barnes, illustrated by Gordon C. James
Nappy Hair by Carolivia Herron, illustrated by Joe Cepeda
My Magnificent Hair by Natalee Johnson (C, S)
2. Books that Blast Off to the Moon
One year, I noticed that there seemed to be a lot of books about the moon and that they are/were winning Canadian book awards. As I began to create a list of books about the moon, I found that space is a popular theme as well. Below, you will find books about the moon or where space is featured prominently.
Moon Wishes by Guy and Patricia Storms, illustrated by Milan Pavlovic (Groundwood Books) (C)
This book has an dreamy illustrations, unique colour combinations, and poetry paint a picture of the moon.
When the Moon Comes by Paul Harbridge, illustrated by Matt James (Groundwood Books) (C)
A book about the moon and night hockey. What a combo!
Some more books about this:
Once in a Full Blue Moon by Danielle Daniel (Groundwood Books) (C)
The Moon Watched It All by Shelley Ann Leedahl, illustrated by Aino Anto (Red Deer Press) (C)
Small World by Ishta Mercurio (Abrams Books) (written in C, US publisher)
Imani's Moon by Ja-Nay Brown-Wood, illustrated by Hazel Mitchell
Kafiya Meets the Moon by Janet Campbell (C, S)
Max and the Tag Along Moon by Floyd Cooper
Goodnight, Moon by Margaret Wise Brown, Illustrated by Clement Hurd
The Darkest Dark by Chris Hadfield, illustrated by Kate Fillion (C, S)
3. Winter Wonderland Books
Being that we live in Canada, books about winter will never go out of style. Each year, I see an increase in these titles. Books where snow is portrayed in its most beautiful and dreamy element but the characters never complain about the cold.
Once Upon a Northern Night by Jean E. Pendziwol, illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault (Groundwood Books) (C)
This is the sort of quiet picture book that makes you want to curl up with a mug of hot chocolate and listen to the silent peace of snowfall at night.
Malaika’s Winter Carnival by Nadia L. Hohn, illustrated by Irene Luxbacher (Groundwood Books) (C)
This book is what I imagined if I took my main character of Malaika’s Costume who comes from a non-descript anglophone Caribbean island and dropped her into the middle of a Quebec winter.
Some more books that feature snow but, this list is far from complete:
Stella, Queen of the Snow by Marie-Louise Gay (Douglas & McIntyre) C)
Perfect Snow by Barbara Reid (Scholastic Canada) (C)
The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats
I Love Snow by Zetta Elliott, illustrated by Purple Wong (C, S)
The Snow Knows by Jennifer McGrath, illustrated by Josée Bisaillon (Nimbus Books) (C)
4. Because we love our Grandparents books
The list of picture books featuring grandparents is endless and I know that I am bound to miss some. Below, I have included a list of diverse titles that feature grandparents. For someone who never grew up living in the same city or country as her grandparents, I find that grandparents feature largely in my writing. Perhaps, this stems from my own longing. I also like this list because you will find more #ownvoices authors and specific details. These books feature grandparents and inter generational relationships.
When I Found Grandma by Saumiya Balasubramaniam, illustrated by Qin Leng (Groundwood Books) (C)
This is a debut picture book that celebrates a long awaited visit from grandma who comes all the way from India.
Stolen Words by Melanie Florence, illustrated by Gabrielle Grimard (Second Story Press) (C)
This picture book is a beautiful sharing between grandfather and granddaughter and the lost indigenous language he spoke.
Some more books about this topic:
Amy Wu and the Perfect Bao by Kat Zhang, illustrated by Charlene Chua (Simon & Schuster) (C)
Grandmother’s Visit by Betty Quan, illustrated by Carmen Mok (Groundwood Books) (C)
Malaika’s Costume by Nadia L. Hohn, illustrated by Irene Luxbacher (Groundwood Books) (C)
Aunt Pearl by Monica Kulling, illustrated by Irene Luxbacher (Groundwood Books) (C)
The Heart’s Song by Gilles Tibo, illustrated by Irene Luxbacher (Scholastic Canada) (C)
The Imaginary Garden by Andrew Laarsen, illustrated by Irene Luxbacher (Kids Can Press) (C)
The Bagel King by Andrew Larsen, illustrated by Sandy Nichols (Kids Can Press) (C)
The Not-So-Far-Away Adventure by Andrew Larsen, illustrated by Irene Luxbacher (Kids Can Press) (C)
Nana’s Cold Days by Adwoa Badoe, illustrated by Bushra Junaid (Groundwood Books) (C)
A Day with Yaya by Nicola I. Campbell, illustrated by Julie Flett (Interlink Publishing Group is a US publisher) (C)
5. Picture Book Bios
Personality, this is my favourite sub-genre of books right now. It is an exciting time to see the fresh takes that authors and illustrators are taking on well-known stories and unsung heroes. Often, they do not describe an entire life but a ”chapter” (pun intended) within the life of a person (or animal). I have written and published two so far and have a few more in the works. What surprised me about writing these picture book biographies, also called non-fiction picture books, are how fun (and at times frustratingly satisfying) to research. Sometimes you are working with volumes of reference texts and other times, you only have newspaper clippings and one-liners.
Admittedly, I have not read all of these titles yet but I am so excited to share them with you. Given that there are soooooo many, I have only listed some of the Canadian titles that are available.
Counting on Katherine: How Katherine Johnson Saved Apollo 13 by Helaine Becker, illustrated by Tiemdow Phumiruk (Henry Holt and Company) (C)
Pirate Queen: The Story of Zheng Yi Sao by Helaine Becker, illustrated by Liz Wong (Groundwood Books) (C)
A Likkle Miss Lou: How Jamaican Poet Louise Bennett Found Her Voice by Nadia L. Hohn, illustrated by Irene Luxbacher (Owlkids Books) (C)
How Emily Saved the Bridge: The Story of Emily Warren Roebling and the Building of the Brooklyn Bridge by Frieda Wishinsky, illustrated by Natalie Nelson (Groundwood Books) (C)
Viola Desmond won’t be Budged! By Jody Nyasha Warner, illustrated by Richard Rudnicki (Groundwood Books) (C)
Oscar Lives Next Door: A Story Inspired by Oscar Peterson’s Childhood by Bonnie Farmer, illustrated by Marie LaFrance (Owlkids Books) (C)
The Stone Thrower by Jael Richardson, illustrated by Matt James (Groundwood Books) (C)
The Proudest Blue by SK Ali and Ibtihaj Muhammad, illustrated by Hatem Aly (Little Brown Books for Young Readers) (C, US publisher)
The Artist and Me by Shane Peacock, illustrated by Sophie Casson (Owlkids Books) (C)
The Man Who Loves Libraries: The Story of Andrew Carnegie by Andrew Larsen, illustrated by Katy Maurey (Owlkids Books) (C)
Bloom: A Story of Fashion Designer Elsa Schiaparelli by Kyo Maclear, illustrated by Julie Morstad (Penguin Random House Canada) (C)
Walking in the City with Jane: A Story of Jane Jacobs by Susan Hughes, illustrated by Valérie Boivin (Kids Can Press) (C)
Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World's Most Famous Bear by Lindsay Mattick, illustrated by Sophie Blackall (Little, Brown and Company) (C with a US publisher)
Mr. Crum’s Potato Predicament by Anne Renaud, illustrated by Felicita Sala (Kids Can Press) (C)
Sergeant Billy: The True Story of the Goat Who Went to War by Mireille Messier, illustrated by Kass Reich (Tundra) (C)
The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book.
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.