A legendary black cowboy’s tale is coming to life through the animation of a children’s book, thanks to an Alberta team.
An author from Carstairs, artist from Airdrie and animator from Cochrane collaborated to have the animated version of the children’s book, Howdy, I’m John Ware, available for free on YouTube so it can be used as a teaching tool for Black History Month.
“We hope teachers will screen the video in their classrooms as part of their Black History programming in the month of February,” said the author Ayesha Clough, who is also the founder of Red Barn Books, a Carstairs-based micro-press which focuses on bringing Alberta stories to kids, including Ware’s.
Ware was born into enslavement in the United States.
Following the American Civil War, he learned cattleman skills, settling near Calgary and Brooks, where he became one of Alberta’s most successful and respected pioneer ranchers, even at a time of widespread anti-Black racism discrimination.
Artist Hugh Rookwood, a black Albertan himself, was delighted to learn about the folk hero as he had no idea who Ware was until he was approached to illustrate the project.
“It’s so great that teachers are starting to embrace the book, because we can all learn more about Canada’s Black history, including right here in Alberta,” says Rookwood.
Clough and Rookwood will be holding virtual visits with schools and reading clubs in Calgary, Edmonton and Toronto as part of Black History Month events.
The animated version of the story gives families learning from home a fun option as well.
“It’s such a great story, and kids will learn so much about Alberta’s history without even realizing it,” said animator Steve Gervais.
Howdy, I’m John Ware is the first book in a series about Alberta pioneers, made for ages six-to-12. A second book is already in the works — Howdy, I’m Flores LaDue, about the world champion trick roper and ‘First Lady of the Calgary Stampede’.
Animation of Ware’s tale was partly funded by the Canada Council for The Arts, through a Digital Originals micro-grant, designed to help artists adapt their work for online platforms during the COVID-19 pandemic.