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Children's books to help them learn about Residential Schools

Updated: May 31


The orange shirt story by Phyllis Webstab

When Phyllis Webstad (nee Jack) turned six, she went to the residential school for the first time. On her first day at school, she wore a shiny orange shirt that her Granny had bought for her, but when she got to the school, it was taken away and never returned. This is the true story of Phyllis and her orange shirt. It is also the story of Orange Shirt Day, an important day of remembrance for all Canadians



When we were alone by David A. Robertson

When a young girl helps tend to her grandmother's garden, she begins to notice things that make her curious. Why does her grandmother have long braided hair and beautifully colored clothing? Why does she speak another language and spend so much time with her family? As she asks her grandmother about these things, she is told about life in a residential school a long time ago, where all of these things were taken away. When We Were Alone is a story about a difficult time in history and, ultimately, one of empowerment and strength.



Shin-chi's canoe by Nicola I. Campbell

When they arrive at school, Shi-shi-etko reminds Shinchi, her six-year-old brother, that they can only use their English names and that they can't speak to each other. For Shinchi, life becomes an endless cycle of church mass, school, and work, punctuated by skimpy meals. He finds solace at the river, clutching a tiny cedar canoe, a gift from his father, and dreaming of the day when the salmon return to the river — a sign that it’s almost time to return home.



When I was eight by Chisty Jordan-Fenton & Margaret Pokiak-Fenton

Bestselling memoir Fatty Legs for younger readers. Olemaun is eight and knows a lot of things. But she does not know how to read. Ignoring her father’s warnings, she travels far from her Arctic home to the outsiders’ school to learn. The nuns at the school call her Margaret. They cut off her long hair and force her to do menial chores, but she remains undaunted. Her tenacity draws the attention of a black-cloaked nun who tries to break her spirit at every turn. But the young girl is more determined than ever to learn how to read. Based on the true story of Margaret Pokiak-Fenton, and complemented by stunning illustrations, When I Was Eight makes the bestselling Fatty Legs accessible to younger readers.



I am not a number by Jenny Kay Dupuis and Kathy Kacer

When eight-year-old Irene is removed from her First Nations family to live in a residential school she is confused, frightened, and terribly homesick. She tries to remember who she is and where she came from, despite the efforts of the nuns who are in charge at the school and who 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 summer holidays, Irene's parents decide never to send her and her brothers away again. But where will they hide? And what will happen when her parents disobey the law? Based on the life of co-author Jenny Kay Dupuis’ grandmother, I Am Not a Number is a hugely necessary book that brings a terrible part of Canada’s history to light in a way that children can learn from and relate to.



These are my words: the residential school diary of Violet Pesheens, Northern Ontario, 1966 by Ruby Slipperjack

Violet Pesheen is struggling to adjust to her new life at Residential School. She misses her Grandma; she has run-ins with Cree girls; at her “white” school, everyone just stares; and everything she brought has been taken from her, including her name—she is now just a number. But worst of all, she has a fear. A fear of forgetting the things she treasures most: her Anishnabe language; the names of those she knew before; and her traditional customs. A fear of forgetting who she was. Her notebook is the one place she can record all of her worries, and heartbreaks, and memories. And maybe, just maybe there will be hope at the end of the tunnel.



Fatty legs: a true story by Chisty Jordan-Fenton & Margaret Pokiak-Fenton

The moving memoir of an Inuit girl who emerges from a residential school with her spirit intact.

Eight-year-old Margaret Pokiak has set her sights on learning to read, even though it means leaving her village in the high Arctic. Faced with unceasing pressure, her father finally agrees to let her make the five-day journey to attend school, but he warns Margaret of the terrors of residential schools.

At school Margaret soon encounters the Raven, a black-cloaked nun with a hooked nose and bony fingers that resemble claws. She immediately dislikes the strong-willed young Margaret. Intending to humiliate her, the heartless Raven gives gray stockings to all the girls -- all except Margaret, who gets red ones. In an instant Margaret is the laughingstock of the entire school. In the face of such cruelty, Margaret refuses to be intimidated and bravely gets rid of the stockings. Although a sympathetic nun stands up for Margaret, in the end it is this brave young girl who gives the Raven a lesson in the power of human dignity.

Complemented by archival photos from Margaret Pokiak-Fenton's collection and striking artwork from Liz Amini-Holmes, this inspiring first-person account of a plucky girl's determination to confront her tormentor will linger with young readers.



Righting Canada's wrongs: residential schools, the devastating impact on Canada's Indigenous Peoples and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's Findings and Calls for Action by Melanie Florence

Canada's residential school system for aboriginal young people is now recognized as a grievous historic wrong committed against First Nations, Metis, and Inuit peoples. This book documents this subject in a format that will give all young people access to this painful part of Canadian history.




Speaking our truth: a journey of reconciliation by Monique Gray Smith

Acclaimed Cree, Lakota and Scottish author Monique Gray Smith has written a book that tells the story of survivors of residential schools and Canada’s treatment of Indigenous peoples, and also talks about practical ways allies can take the findings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and use them to work toward reconciliation. There’s also a companion website (speakingourtruth.ca) designed to help support readers’ efforts to do the same.

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