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Curated Picture Books about Residential Schools

Updated: Dec 7, 2021

EDIT: For an updated copy of this Book List, go to our catalogue!

Many of us did not learn about Residential Schools in school. As parents it is a daunting subject to tackle with our own children. Here are some books available at the East Gwillimbury Libraries that can help to inform and educate in an age-appropriate way.

Not My Girl by Christy Jordan-Fenton & Margaret-Olemaun Pokiak-Fenton

Based on the true story of Margaret Pokiak-Fenton, Not My Girl is a poignant story of a determined young girl's struggle to belong. Margaret's homecoming is not what she expected. Margaret's years at school have changed her. Her only comfort is in the books she learned to read at school. Gradually, Margaret relearns the words and ways of her people

The Boy Who Walked Backwards by Ben Sures

Based on a true story, The Boy Who Walked

Backwards is about Leo, an Ojibway boy and his family on the Serpent River First Nation. Leo's life turns to darkness when he is forced to attend residential school. While at home for Christmas, Leo uses an inspiration from an Ojibway childhood game to deal with his struggles.

Phyllis's Orange Shirt by Phyllis Webstad

This is Phyllis Webstad's true story behind Orange Shirt Day which is a day for everyone to reflect upon the treatment of First Nations people and the message that "Every Child Matters".

Shi-Shi-etko by Nicola I. Campbell

Shi-Shi-etko is a moving and poetic account of a child who finds solace all around her, even though she is on the verge of great loss - a loss that native people have endured for generations because of the residential school system.

The Train by Jodie Callaghan

In this picture book, a young girl named Ashley is on her way home from school, when she meets her great-uncle by an abandoned train tracks. He recounts his childhood memories of when the train picked him and other children up to be transported to residential schools where they were not allowed to speak Mi'kmaq and were punished if they did. Great-uncle now comes to the tracks to remember and to wait "...for what we lost that day to come back to us." He is also happy that Ashley doesn't have to attend a residential school. Her laughter and joy at playing and running give him hope for the future.

When I Was Eight by Christy Jordan-Fenton & Margaret-Olemaun Pokiak-Fenton

Margaret is eight and knows a lot of things, but she does not know how to read. She must travel to the outsiders' school to learn, ignoring her father's warning of what will happen there. Cutting their hair and taking their traditional clothing from them was the first step in stripping Native children of their identity once they got to boarding schools. Some schools, like the one in When I Was Eight, were mission schools. The words and the art in When I Was Eight convey a frightful but honest story about perseverance. Margaret learned to read, in spite of the obstacles she encountered at school.

I Am Not A Number by Jenny Kay Dupuis & Kathy Kacer

In I Am Not A Number Irene is removed from her First Nations family to live in a residential school and she is confused, frightened and terribly homesick. The nuns tell her that she is not to use her own name but instead use the number they have assigned to her. When she goes home for the summer holidays, her parents decide never to send her back. What will happen when her parents disobey the law?

Shin-chi's Canoe by Nicola I. Campbell

A sequel to Shi-Shi-etko, tells the story of of Shi-Shi-etko's six year old brother, who is joining Shi-Shi-etko at residential school. Shi-Shi-etko gives her brother, Shin-chi advice on the things he must remember. They pass their days at school being forever hungry and lonely. Finally when summer comes, the children return home for a joyful family reunion.

When We Were Alone by David A. Robertson

This book is about a grandmother sharing her life in a residential school a long time ago, where everything, such as her long braided hair and beautifully coloured clothing was taken away. This is a story about a difficult time in history and, ultimately, a story of empowerment and strength.

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