When Irene, a First Nations girl, is removed from her home and sent to a residential school, she is determined not to forget who she really is.
I am Not a Number
by Jenny Kay Dupuis and Kathy Kacer, Illustrated by Gillian Newland
The way Native Americans have been treated in the past is something that needs to be taught to children now. It’s not easy to read about. It is, however, part of history. I am not a Number offers a valuable lesson in history in a simple and profound way.
In I Am Not A Number, Irene’s parents, like many Native parents, were coerced into giving up their children. In Canada, in 1928, Dupuis's grandmother, Irene Couchie Dupuis, was taken to a residential school in Canada. These were schools designed to "civilize" and convert Native children.
When Irene arrives at the school and tells the nun (it is a mission school run by the Catholic Church) her name, she's told "We don't use names here. All students are known by numbers. You are 759.”
Her hair, along with the other girls, is cut short. They’re also punished for using their own language. When Irene and her friend speak in, Ojibwe, one of the nuns hits her with a wooden spoon, saying it’s ”the devil's language." The nun then punishes Irene by filling up a bedpan with hot coals to burn Irene's hands and arms. This is indeed how the children at the schools were punished.
Irene's story ends on a hopeful note. She and her brothers go home for the summer. When the agent shows up in the fall, the children hide in their dad's workshop. Irene's dad challenges the agent and says, "Call the police. Have me arrested,” vowing that his children will never be taken away again.
In the Afterword, Dupuis writes that her grandmother was at the school for that one year because her fathers resistance worked. The lesson is, resistance can work against injustice.
Dupuis and Kacer also provide information about the residential school system, specifically the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (the TRC) findings released in 2015.
The history of the US and Canada is complex and often painful. I am Not a Number provides a valuable history lesson with straight forward text and enhanced by beautiful illustrations. I highly recommend this read aloud book for children 6 years and older.
This review, by Susanne Aspley, is provided as part of Multicultural Book Day, January 27, 2017.
Multicultural Children’s Book Day is its fourth year and was founded by Valarie Budayr from Jump Into A Book and Mia Wenjen from PragmaticMom. Our mission is to raise awareness on the ongoing need to include kid’s books that celebrate diversity in home and school bookshelves while also working diligently to get more of these types of books into the hands of young readers, parents and educators.
Despite census data that shows 37% of the US population consists of people of color, only 10% of children’s books published have diversity content. Using the Multicultural Children’s Book Day holiday, the MCBD Team are on a mission to change all of that. This event has also proven to be an excellent way to compile a list of diverse children’s book titles and reviews for parents, grandparents, educators and librarians to use all year long.
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