Books have always been a way for me to approach tough topics and start important discussions with my students. This week, as we prepare for The National Day for Truth and Reconciliation on Sept. 30th, here are some books that might help you launch those discussions. While there are more and more books being written each year about residential schools, these are among my favorites:
The Orange Shirt Story – Phyliss Webstad
This book tells the true story that inspired the movement of Orange Shirt Day. When author Phyllis Webstad was a little girl, she was excited to go to residential school for the first time. Her Granny bought her a bright orange shirt that she loved and she wore it to school for her first day. When she arrived at school her bright orange shirt was taken away, along with so much of herself.
Phyllis’s Orange Shirt – Phylliss Webstad
An adaptation of the best selling Orange Shirt Story, written for younger students.
Secret Path – Gord Downie & Jeff Lemire
Powerful graphic novel that tells the true story of Chanie “Charlie” Wenjack, a twelve-year-old boy who died while trying to walk home from the Cecilia Jeffrey Indian Residential School, 400 miles away from his house.
Fatty Legs – Christy Jordon-Fenton & Margaret-Olemaun Pokiak-Fenton
A true story of Margaret Pokiak, an Inuit girl who, longing to read like her older sister, begs her father to be sent to school. Eventually he gives in, sending her to a residential school in Northern Canada. Her dreams are crushed when she soon faces terrible hardship and humiliation from the nuns.
When I Was Eight – Christy Jordon-Fenton
The picture book adaptation of the chapter book Fatty Legs.
I Am Not A Number – Jenny Kay Dupuis & Kathy Kacer
This heart-breaking picture book is based on the life of 8 year old Irene Couchie (grandmother of the author) who was removed from her First Nations family and sent to a Canadian Residential school.
When We Were Alone – David A. Robertson & Julie Flett
A young First Nations’ girl asks her grandmother why she does things the way she does – wear her hair long, wear happy colours, hang out with her brother… The answers are as heartbreaking as her grandmother tells her about life in a residential school a long time ago, where all of these things were taken away.
Shi-Shi-Etko – Nicola Campbell
This is a heartbreaking book about Shi-shi-etko, a young native girl, this time in Canada, who must leave her home and family to go to a residential school. As she prepares to leave, she gathers memories during the last few days, first with her mother and father, then with family and her grandmother.
Stolen Words – Melanie Florence
Heartbreaking, gentle story about a young girl and her grandfather. Her grandfather’s language – Cree – was taken from him as a child at residential school and now his granddaughter wants to help him reclaim it.
I Lost My Talk – Rita Joe
In this powerful poem by indigenous poet and songwriter, Rita Joe tells the heart-breaking story of how she lost her language, her culture, and ways of knowing the world while in residential school.
I’m Finding My Talk – Rebecca Thomas
In this companion book to Rita Joe’s I Lost My Talk, a second-generation residential school survivor writes an open and honest response poem about rediscovering her community, and finding her culture.
Braiding Sweetgrass for Young Adults – Robin Wall Kimmerer & Monique Grey Smith
I loved Braiding Sweetgrass so was thrilled to learn Monique Grey Smith had adapted it for young adults. I loved it equally, if not more than the original. Through the author’s lens, we see nature and its impact on all of us, is clear and pure. The message of this book is simple; if you open your heart to it, nature will guide you and change your life in ways you cannot imagine. LOVE!
Speaking Our Truth – Monique Gray Smith
An excellent overview of the history of residential schools, their terrible impact, and what all Canadians can do to begin to repair the harm through acts of Reconciliation. Written for middle-school aged readers but also appropriate for adult readers. I especially liked the reflection questions the author asks, the additional resources she suggests, and the calls to action she provides.
The Witness Blanket: Truth, Art and Reconciliation – Carey Newman
The Witness Blanket is a living work of art, created with hundreds of collected items from Canadian residential school. This is the story behind the collected items and the making of the blanket as a first step in the journey of healing.
I Hope – Monique Gray Smith
I like to think that Orange Shirt Day is a hopeful step towards healing. So I end my list of books with Monique Gray Smith’s gorgeous new book. Written in English and Cree, this is a lovely story of hope and love and a reminder to be kind to all those around us, including our earth.