As a truly "hands on author", in addition to Malaika's Costume Book Launch on March 5, I decided that I wanted to also throw a party to celebrate the launch of my first picture book in a completely kid-friendly birthday party-style (minus the cake and ice cream). This event would be noisy and messy and over-run with children and books. And certainly, this it was. Malaika's Carnival Book Bash took place on April 2nd at my Albion Library, my childhood public branch. Currently, Albion library is going through a major expansion (so badly needed, can anyone say noisy teenager-with-strict-parents'-after-school-hangout with crying babies and computer classroom and no more study carrels left, anyone?). This did not scare off attendees, though. It was also nice to give something to Rexdale, my community that has given so much to me. Rexdale is an area located in northwest end of Toronto, part of the outer "inner-city", a "high priority" neighbourhood. Having grown up in and still living in Rexdale has meant day-to-day exposure to and appreciation of diversity, Canada's immgration, and inequality of socio-economic and arts and cultural development when it comes to other parts of the city. It has also meant seeing the media report on all of the ills of this community without highlighting the great things (like the diversity and high proportion of youth). Only over the last twenty years, I have noticed the increase in social and community services to Rexdale. Also, I celebrated and did my happy dance when the first Starbucks (not that I am endorsing any corporation but some place after hours in Rexdale that one can sit, think, and ponder is so need that the Starbucks is often packed with local university/college students who need a place to study and families on an outing) opened its doors last year. So these and also my nostalgia (my first library card, first book sign outs, seeing my first storyteller, the same high ceilings and vintage green walls and red bookshelves from my 1980s childhood) was all the more reason to have Malaika's Carnival Book Bash (or, Malaika's Costume Book Launch Part 2) at the Albion Library. I invited the Ubuntu Drum and Dance troupe to perform as well. Although they perform in a West-African style and Malaika's Costume takes place in the Caribbean, the group is composed of African-Canadian children and youth who I had the opportunity to teach at the Africentric Alternative School. (In my dedication of Malaika's Costume, I write to "to my dear students at the Africentric Alternative School".) Ubuntu was founded by drum/dance educator, Amma Ofori, and the group is raising funds for a performance trip in Jamaica this summer. Click here to find out more about this group. After Ubuntu opened the event, I did my reading. There were forty-ish attendees which included the regular Storytime crowd (the Carnival Book Bash was in their timeslot) and as well as lots of new and old faces (families, friends, colleagues, and "back in the day" high school friends). We sang, danced, and listened to Malaika's Costume. Then, illustrator Irene Luxbacher led the children in some serious Carnival headpiece making and there was colouring too. We also had a bookselling and signing table and then Ubuntu drummed and danced again to end off the day. I loved every moment of Malaika's Carnival Book Bash. For me, it was taking my teaching outside of the classroom, just as I originally envisioned my educational career. (What I did at Albion Library, is not very different from what I do everyday as a kindergarten teacher.) The reading was a little rowdy (I had a great group of little seated listeners but there were some criers and runners and fascinated-screen-touchers and parents chasing kids around and behind me) but it was a lot of fun. However, it what made it all worth it was the smiles and hugs from all of the kids and parents. Here's to more Malaika Costume events coming soon. Please check my Events page for more to come. Photo credits: Camille Mitchell, Tierra Hohn, Kerri Hill-James
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