Children create ABC book to tackle 'big concepts' of slavery, colonialism

Using song, dance, and paint, 40 children worked together Saturday to create an ABC picture book tackling concepts like slavery and colonialism.

The Book in a Day project aims to publish the ABC book in spring 2019

Denise Gillard (left) talks to the children about the Underground Railroad. (Shaina Luck/CBC)

Using song, dance, and paint, 40 children worked together Saturday to create an ABC picture book tackling concepts like slavery and colonialism. 

"I really believe that when we listen to the voices of children, that things can change," said Denise Gillard, the project director for the Book in a Day program. The program was developed by the Nova Scotia chapter of the Global Afrikan Congress (GAC).

The organization works to combat racism and promote the idea of reparations, which it defines as restitution for political, social and economic damage caused to African people by the Atlantic slave trade, slavery, and colonialism.

The dance group creates the letter 'H' with their bodies. (Shaina Luck/CBC)

"It's the idea that European and Western nations need to acknowledge, first of all, the damage that's been done, apologize for this crime against humanity inflicted upon people of African descent, on African people," Gillard said. 

"So, very big concepts that children can readily understand when it's accessible to them. And they can express their opinions and thoughts about it and lead the way." 

Gillard said the ABC book designed by children between the ages of 7-12 at the Halifax North Memorial Public Library is a first for the congress.

Volunteers talked to the children about concepts such as slavery and the Underground Railroad, and then listened to and recorded the children's thoughts.

Children sing together during the Book in a Day event at the Halifax North Memorial Library. (Steve Berry/CBC)

The volunteers engaged the children in many different ways, including a spoken word station that focused on the text of the book, a dance station where kids discussed concepts while forming letters with their bodies, and an art station that used paint and glitter to illustrate the letters. 

Ja'Quel Upshaw, 11, illustrated the letter C after becoming inspired by looking at African designs. 

"I put elements of nature, of earth, water and life. I'm a very creative kid and I like pushing myself to the limit. I believe in others and I hope that the world will be a better place," he said. 

The children who participated in the Book in a Day program were between the ages of 9 and 12. (Steve Berry/CBC)

Nine-year-old Abena Atwell Rodney chose glitter paint and clay to illustrate her letter. 

"I'm going to make the letter H, and I thought I should put some paint over the clay I made, and then put another piece of paper over it, so I could cut it out and paint over it again," she said.  

All the children will get their names on the book as co-authors. Abena said she had never been part of a book project before. 

Abena Atwell Rodney, second from left, and other children create illustrations for the ABC book. (Shaina Luck/CBC)

"I think it'd look really nice. I'd be really happy," she said. 

Errol Sharpe of Fernwood Publishing said his company has never worked on a book that was put together in this way before, but the process is exciting. 

"This is a new experience for me too," he said. "We sat and talked about it one afternoon and I thought it was a great idea, and it looks like it's going to happen." 

Forty children took part in the Book in a Day event Saturday in Halifax. (Brian MacKay/CBC)

"I thought it was a great opportunity to get kids involved in putting together this book, which I think can be a very important, very educational and historical book."

The ABC book will be published in the spring of 2019. The number of copies in the first run has not yet been determined.