‘They need to see Black authors are out there’ — Book club for Black youth fills gaps in education

Love of Literature is Canada’s only non-profit book club for Black youth. With a mission to educate, inspire and empower, the club is running a six-week virtual summer program to connect Black students with books that feature and celebrate Black culture.

There are over 100 kids and teenagers, from ages 7 to 18, signed up for the book club this year.

Danielle Norris is the founder of Love of Literature. She joined Gillian Deacon on Here and Now from Brampton, Ont., to talk about the book club.

Here and Now Toronto6:38Love of Literature, Canada’s only non-profit book club for Black youth

How did the Love of Literature book club come to be?

It started in 2017. I recognized the need for it, it was definitely important for us to focus on books with Black characters. We basically branched out and we began to expand to include more kids as the year progressed. 

Now that we’re at the state where we are virtual, the program has really grown. We used to really focus on just kids from the Brampton and Mississauga area, but now we’ve expanded across the GTA. We’ve got students out in Shelburne, we have a couple of kids from Alberta, Nova Scotia, a few in the U.S. and one in the U.K. 

There weren’t much of a change when my kids have gone through the system as well. It’s a bit troubling.– Danielle Norris

I grew up in Brampton, in the Peel Region. It’s an interesting fact to recognize that there weren’t really a lot of diverse books when I was a kid growing up. And there wasn’t much of a change when my kids have gone through the system as well. It’s a bit troubling. 

There weren’t a lot of opportunities for kids to have access to these books. The only time that you could find them is when it comes around Black History Month. I recognized that and asked parents to ask kids, “Do you have any programs at your school that are there to celebrate and uplift Black students?” And unfortunately, that’s not the reality for a lot of our kids. 

Love of Literature Book Club members gather outside Knowledge Bookstore in Brampton, Ont. in pre-pandemic times. (Submitted by Danielle Norris)

For the program that begins on July 10, how is it going to work with these students from all across the country?

It’s a virtual platform. We’re going for six Saturdays, one-hour sessions. The families will register online, and we mail out a package to them so they’ll receive the books. 

They also receive a reading schedule, so we all log on for our book club hour and connect with other facilitators who are also Black educators. And they basically just help us go through different sections of the book in chunks so we can get through the session.

One really good example we have is the award-winning author Jerry Craft, he created a graphic novel called New Kid and a follow up called Class Act. A majority of our kids will be reading this book. It’s really funny so I think all kids will will be able to enjoy this book.

This author is going to be joining us for one of the sessions, so he’ll be there to talk to the students and answer questions. We’re trying to make students see these authors. They need to see that Black authors are out there and that they exist. And when they share their stories, they also help to inspire the students.

What does it mean to you to be able to expose your kids and other youth to these books and authors?

It’s almost like a dream come true. If I had a book like this when I was a kid, I can’t imagine where I would be. So it really helps me feel inspired by the kids, by some of the things that they asked and some of the reflections that we have when we’re going through our books. Just hearing them be able to connect with the books and the characters is a very uplifting feeling.

 They need to see that Black authors are out there and that they exist. And when they share their stories, they also help to inspire the students.– Danielle Norris

There’s one book that we read in the spring term called Clubhouse Mysteries by Sharon M. Draper. One of the characters has a Jamaican background. Within the stories, they’re speaking with the Jamaica dialect Patois. One of the questions I asked the kids is ‘Does the story they’re reading remind them of themselves or someone that they know?’

They loved this character Ziggy and his family because they’ve never actually read a book where ‘the oldest person reminds me of my grandmother’, or ‘that’s how my uncle speaks.’ So it was just interesting to have that connection to the literature.

Danielle Norris’s comments have been edited for length and clarity.

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