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Author offers 'joyous' presentations during Black History Month

Nadia Hohn is passionate about diversifying the Canadian children's literature landscape

For children's author and teacher Nadia Hohn, spreading the love and wonder of reading and writing is a joy and a treat.

Now the author of nine books — with two coming out this year — Hohn said she has been writing since she was six years old.

She is perhaps best known from her Malaika series, which started with the 2016 publication of Malaika's Costume. The book was chosen as the 2021 TD Grade One book, meaning every Grade 1 student in the country received a copy.

But Hohn is prolific and has written for middle- and high-schoolers and adults too, both fiction and non-fiction titles.

She balances it all with a 20-year teaching career which she still loves. Presenting at schools on her books is like "expanding the walls of my classroom," she said.

This week, children in the Halton Catholic District School Board were able to enjoy her work and interactive presentations as she made a number of school visits to celebrate Black History Month, including a stop at St. Patrick CES in Burlington.

"I am really passionate about diversifying the Canadian children's literature landscape to make sure we have diverse books and diverse creators, creating those books," Hohn told BurlingtonToday.

Born and raised in Toronto, Hohn is the child of Jamaican parents who immigrated to Canada in the 1970s. Many of her books draw from that Jamaican heritage, including A Likkle Miss Lou: How Jamaican Poet Louise Bennett Coverley Found Her Voice, which was published by Owl Kids in 2019.

Presenting the book during Children's Book Week in May 2019 was an adventure she will never forget.

"I was going to all these schools in Alberta and some very rural schools as well," Hohn said. "It was an adventure for me and I was so glad I got to meet those kids. I presented at a Hutterite community and it was the first place I read the A Likkle Miss Lou book and they loved it."

Black History Month in February is always her busiest time year but she would not have it any other way. She said it is an important month for working artists to earn a living.

And it sends her, and often Malaika, back out among the kids. "Sometime they think I am the main character," she said.

"I love them," Hohn said of her presentations. "I really enjoy working with children and sharing my story. I am just very passionate that there needs to be more stories like this. I did not grow up with books like this. I did not grow up seeing a lot of books about characters that looked like me — or that lived in Canada and looked like me. 

"I know that when kids see me, they see someone they can aspire to be like. And I didn't grow up with that. I feel like I am offering something that I didn't have myself. It's really important — not only for Black and Caribbean kids — but for everybody to see and learn and appreciate different cultures to just understand their peers better and the stories they bring."

The Malaika series explores immigration themes and the experiences of members of her family.

"I think, for Black students especially, regardless of their age, they perk up," she said. "Something inside them, I see light inside them, because it's like they are being affirmed. The language they speak at home, they are hearing it. They are hearing something familiar, their culture. And everyone else is seeing their culture in the best light.

"We are celebrating Black history, Black culture — aspects of Black culture because it is very diverse as well — but we are celebrating that and showing some wonderful things. Sometimes in the media, there are (still) stereotypes and racism and a lot of things people carry and deal with.

"But here is an opportunity to come to a presentation where we are going to celebrate and uplift. Everyone is invited. I think people feel they can make connections with their own culture and own history. I want them to feel seen. That is why I write the books I do and I want them to feel seen in the presentation too."

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Tania Theriault

About the Author: Tania Theriault

Tania is a print and broadcast journalist with over 15 years experience who has recently returned to Canada and is keen to learn all there is to know about Burlington and its welcoming people
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