CSL Journal is very pleased to present this first collaboration with Resource Links Magazine, featuring book reviews from the magazine.
By Victoria Pennell
Editor, Resource Links
Resource Links, published 5 times a year is Canada’s national journal devoted to the review and evaluation of Canadian resources for children and young adults
Resource Links reviews new information books, picture books and novels for children and young adults, audio-visual materials, computer software, and Internet resources for young people and professional literature of interest to teachers and librarians.
Resource Links informs you about Canadian writers, awards and announcements. Everything of interest to a Canadian audience.
Resource Links is written by educators, librarians and writers working with young people across the nation. Our reviewers span the country from British Columbia to Newfoundland.
For subscription information, feature columns, excerpts, and a comprehensive index visit the Resource Links website at www.resourcelinksmagazine.ca
In keeping with aspects of the Treasure Mountain Canada 5 theme, Truth and Reconciliation/Indigenous Education, as editor of Resource Links, I am pleased to highlight the following Canadian resources which have been reviewed in recent issues of our journal.
I Am Not a Number by Jenny Kay Dupuis. Second Story Press, 2016. 978-1-927583944.
Based on a true story of the author’s grandmother, I Am Not a Number is an essential retelling of a year in a young girl’s life in an Ontario residential school.
In 1928, Irene and two of her brothers were taken from their family, and forced to move to a residential school run by nuns, where they would be shamed into renouncing everything about their Ojibway heritage. As she was leaving, Irene’s parents pleaded with her not to forget who she is and where she came from. Although she suffered from neglect and abuse at the hands of the nuns, Irene’s spirit persevered and she was able to keep her promise to remember her truth. She was fortunate enough, as few were, to have a family who were willing to fight to keep her out of the school, hiding the children away when it was time to return for their second year. However, the memory of her single year in the school was haunting enough to stay with Irene, and be passed down to her granddaughter, who very eloquently wove it into this remarkable story.
Of special note is the author’s ability to portray the devastating environment that Irene lived in, in a heartfelt and authentic way that is very much appropriate for the intended age. Children will no doubt have questions, and may struggle to comprehend the horror of the system, but most will not find the story too disturbing to get through.
As an important, albeit tragic, part of Canadian history, this story will resonate with teachers and students in a school setting. Few stories exist about the residential school system that are aimed at a younger age group, and this one is an absolute must for classrooms and libraries. An afterword about the system as well as one about Irene are included and, along with the story itself, will provide children and classrooms with a lot to think about.
(Reviewed by Nicole Rowlinson in Vol. 22, # 1, October 2016)
Stolen Words by Melanie Florence. Illustrated by Gabrielle Grimard. Second Story Press, 2017. 978-1-772600377
A little girl asks her grandfather to teach her something in his Cree language. When he says he can’t, she asks for a reason why. She now begins a mission; to help her grandfather find his Cree language again. So begins the narrative Stolen Words, an unforgettable picture book recounting a child’s experience in a residential school.
Throughout the dialogue between the child and the adult, there are no references to either having a name; this anonymity signifies the inclusiveness of so many children who had to deal with the legacy and tragedy of residential schools. Remaining nameless reflects it could be anyone.
Stolen Words reflects the impact that many Indigenous children faced when taken from their families and placed in a school system that was determined to eliminate their culture, their heritage, and ultimately their dignity. This gentle story describes the pain and fear faced by so many Canadian Indigenous children from various First Nations communities across the country. But through all the pain, which often gets passed on through the generations, healing is possible.
The simple text in Stolen Words has a powerful impact emotionally on the reader, but also inspires hope and courage as the child and adult embark on a journey of healing, through love, determination, and resiliency. Florence uses gentle words to comfort the harshness of the topic of the residential school experience. Residential school existence is a period in Canadian history that often remained silent, as survivors felt ashamed to speak of their experiences. With the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s report in 2015, society is slowly discovering the significance and need for understanding the long-term effects indigenous families of survivors are dealt. Systemic racism was the root of the pain. Stolen Words is glorious picture book that tells a powerful story which needs to be recalled to readers of all ages. It is also a love story, between a child and her grandfather; a love between the two that exists and helps with healing, and ultimately the power to be freed from the past. This darkness in Canadian history is just being recognized for the indignity that it was, and the need for society to erase racism from the dictionary; Stolen Words is a very compelling tool needed for that eradication.
Besides the gentleness of the text, the illustrations are meaningful, reflective of the pain. Subtle colours and expressions enhance the text, with bright and colourful images reflecting the present day “story” of the child and grandfather, while images of the time during the grandfather’s residence in the residential schools can be seen in muted, colourless pictures. This contrast is gentle and highly effective in the telling of the story. The image of the children singing with the adult holding a cage as a bird seems to be flying into the cage is very symbolic in the concept of locking the voices away, stopping each child from flying on their own as free and unique people; the colour on the double page illustration is dark, colourless and a stark vision of the reality faced by the children. Near the end of the story, birds can be seen flying with “word” tails in the air; the stolen words receiving their freedom as the grandfather opens the pages of the book An Introduction to Cree. Scattered Cree words enhance several pages in the story as well. The final page portrays the child and adult walking away, hand in hand, with a bird flying freely in the sky. These mixed media illustrations truly complement the story perfectly with a sensitivity and gentleness essential for a story of such a horrific topic.
Stolen Words is not just for Indigenous children in Canada, it is a book for all cultures. Although written for children from ages 4-8, Stolen Words is a book that should be read by both children and adults of all ages for it’s historical significance, emotional text, and artistic portrayal suffered by so many. It makes the reader reflect on the importance of culture, family, and one’s own identity, not just for indigenous people, but also for people of all cultures. And with seeing this story through the eyes of a child, Stolen Words is highly effective as a powerful and dynamic narrative. It reminds us, that hope is real! Stolen Words is an excellent book that should be found in all school libraries, as well as public libraries and high school course classrooms.
(Reviewed by Carmelita Cechetto-Shea in Vol 23, #2, December 2017)
You Hold Me Up by Monique Gray Smith. Illustrated by Danielle Daniel. Orca Book Publishers, 2017. 978-1459814479.
You Hold Me Up is a simply written book with a powerful message: we need each other. It reinforces the need for community and the need to make and maintain connections with one another. Children and caregivers are encouraged to show one another love, kindness, and respect. They are encouraged to share with one another, learn with one another, and laugh with one another. This book puts an emphasis on relationships and being connected to people in our sphere: parents, caregivers, educators, and peers. It models how we should treat others and how we should expect to be treated by other people.
Author Monique Gray Smith, who is of Cree, Lakota, and Scottish ancestry, wrote this book as a part of the reconciliation and healing journey Canada is undertaking as a nation. In her author’s note, she wrote that this book is to remind us of our common humanity, and hopes to inspire empathy and love for one another, starting with the littlest children. It is important to hold each other up with “respect and dignity”. The illustrations are composed of rich hues and feature two or more people engaging in acts that exemplify dignity and respect.
The story is simple enough that the youngest reader can read and understand; the vocabulary is not difficult or challenging for most readers. The book is an excellent way to start dialogue with children about ways we can show respect for one another and talk about how we treat each other. This book could certainly be used in lessons on reconciliation, manners, friendships, and relationships in general. It is an excellent book to use for reading aloud and prompting students to list examples of kindness and sharing. It would be a wonderful addition to any children’s library.
(Reviewed by Catherine Bellamy in Vol 23, #1, October 2017)
The Lives of Desperate Girls by MacKenzie Common. Penguin Teen Canada, 2017. 978-0-143198710
Jenny Parker is a typical teen, flying below the radar in the shadow of her best friend Chloe Shaughnessy. When Chloe goes missing, Jenny and all the teens in her small northern Ontario town obey the code and hide information from the police. A month later, the body of another girl, Helen Commanda, is found, naked and dumped in the bush. But because this girl is from the reserve, the story gets much less attention from the community or the police. Jenny and her friend Tom begin to look into Helen’s story.
This novel reveals the dark underside of many Canadian communities. There is a hierarchy where local teen athletes and upper class “beautiful people” receive different treatment, essentially a free pass when they misbehave. Neither Jenny nor Tom are in that class, but nor are they part of the Native community, where the legacy of the local residential school still haunts many. Chloe had fallen from favour due to her break-up with a star in the school system. When she resorted to the readily available alcohol and drugs, she was taken advantage of sexually. Jenny explains the rules, “If you were a girl, you waited until you were dating someone before you had sex. You stayed with that person for at least six months, and if you broke up, you didn’t have sex again until the next relationship was firmly established… As long as you had a boyfriend in the daylight, no one cared what you did at night. Chloe had slept with a few too many guys in circumstances that were a bit questionable. Suddenly, she was soiled, and lurid stories of her depraved behaviour began to circulate at school.” (p. 64) Chloe pays the ultimate price for her choices.
Meanwhile, Jenny investigates Helen’s story. She learns of the Highway of Tears, and the “starlight tours” which cost so many indigenous lives. Helen’s mother tells her about the local residential school and its practices. Jenny concludes, “We had been taught that Canada promoted human rights both at home and abroad. That was true except when it came to Natives. It seemed like you were still allowed to be racist against Natives; you just had to practice a different kind of prejudice. The new racism lay in a shoddy investigation, a buried newspaper article and a willingness to move on without any sort of resolution. Maybe the message from our history had never changed. Maybe even now a Native life wasn’t worth the same as a white person’s.” (pp. 123-124)
Despite this serious content, Common’s style is not preachy. Jenny is a good narrator: a clear-eyed and down-to-earth perspective on the reality of teen life. She works part-time and assists with chores in a single-parent household where money is always tight, while trying to get grades to qualify for post-secondary opportunities. She experiments with marijuana and alcohol, and she tests her sexual boundaries with Tom. Many of the events she describes are accurate depictions of small town high schools, based on her own experience and the stories of her father, a high school teacher. Although motivation is not always clear, the characters are realistic and the important plot lines are hard-hitting.
(Reviewed by Patricia Jermey in Vol 22, #5, June 2017)
The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline. Dancing Cat Books, 2017. 978-1-77086-486-3.
Frenchie’s brother, Mitch, sacrifices his survival so that Frenchie can escape the Recruiters – government officials who work for the Department Oneirology. The mandate of this department is to capture Indigenous people who, rumour has it, are being experimented on and murdered because they still have the power to dream. The official rhetoric is that the Indigenous people are being put into “schools,” modelled on the historical principles of Residential Schools, for their own protection. Frenchie is left to continue the journey north in the hope that he can survive long enough to meet up with other “Indians” (p. 17). As luck would have it, Frenchie is saved from hypothermia by Miigwans and his “family” and he joins them as they journey. It is a journey that will put Frenchie’s will and determination to the test and challenge his beliefs in ways he could never have imagined. Can there be a hopeful ending when persecution and strife seem to be around every corner?
The Marrow Thieves is a gorgeous and surprising novel. Dimaline expertly weaves Indigenous lore and history with post-apocalyptical tropes to create an exciting must-read. All of her characters are rich, flawed, and multi-dimensional. Each character’s story is unique. From beginning to end, this page-turner does just the right amount of heart-warming and heart-wrenching. Accolades will abound for this gem of a novel.
(NOTE: This title has just won the 2017 Governor General’s Award for Young People’s Literature (Text) – English and the $50,000 Kirkus Prize for Young People’s Literature in the United States)
(Reviewed by Angela Thompson in Vol. 23, # 1, October 2017)
These are my Words: The Residential School Diary of Violet Pesheens (Dear Canada Series)
by Ruby Slipperjack. Scholastic Canada, 2016. 978-1-4431-3318-0
Written in the first person, this is the one year diary of a girl removed from her home in Flint Lake, Ontario and sent to a Residential school, the location of which is not specified. The children attend a local day school in the new community. The separation from family, loss of language, isolation from siblings, strange food, lack of privacy and uncertainty of communication with home are all shown in the text. The daily story of the difficulties she encountered is distressing and the lack of empathy shown by those charged with the care of these children is hard to understand. Students from native communities will recognise the breakdown of family responsibilities that this system produced.
Eight original, black and white photographs and a double page map showing the locations of the residential schools in Canada are at the back of the book in an epilogue, together with an historical note, credits and biographical details of the author. It is the latest of the Scholastic series called Dear Canada, in the genre of creative non-fiction, which tell about Canadian history from the point of view of young women or girls.
I hope that this book will prompt conversations about inclusion rather than segregation.
This title is also available in French as Les mots qu’il me reste; Violette Pesheens, pensionnaire à l’école résidentielle (Cher Journal Series) Éditions Scholastic, 2017. 978-1-4431-5600-4).
(Reviewed by Mavis Holder in Vol 22, # 3, February 2017)
Speaking Our Truth: A Journey of Reconciliation by Monique Gray Smith. Orca Book Publishers, 2017. 978-1-4598-1538-4
Speaking Our Truth: A Journey of Reconciliation is a vibrant non-fiction resource for middle grade students. Monique Gray Smith challenges all readers to take a journey with her. She begins with outlining the historical context and events that have precipitated the need for understanding and reconciliation. From first contact to the era of treaties to residential schools, Gray Smith explores the events that have scarred relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people. Gray Smith also includes a current examination of the TRC (Truth and Reconciliation Committee) process and the resulting calls to action.
One of her central questions is, what can all of us do now to move forward? Reciprocity, building bridges, talking and teaching about the legacy of residential schools, becoming and/or acting as an ally, watching and discussing 94 Days for Reconciliation found on YouTube, are only some of the suggestions that Gray Smith presents. ““One thing I know for sure is that there is always an answer. And it is never ““Nothing.”” There is always something we can do”” (125).
All of the information in this book is clearly organized and supported by meaningful graphics and pictures. The text is easy to follow and divided into manageable chunks with glossary definitions as needed. This book is easily one of the most current and thoughtful that I have read on the subject. Every school library should consider adding this book to their collection.
(Reviewed by Angela Thompson in v. 23, # 2, December 2016)
An Overview of Residential Schools in Canada (Elementary Version). McIntyre Media, 2015.
This DVD presents the history of Canadian residential schools and the damage that they caused while trying to assimilate First Nations children into European Canadian culture. The video also covers the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the effect that residential schools continue to have on First Nations people and their communities. The DVD also contains bonus clips of news interviews about residential schools, the lives of First Nations people, and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The accompanying PDF resource guide contains individual and class activities to continue class discussion and research about this important topic.
The production of this video is not of the highest quality and makes use of a lot of stock footage, however, the information presented in both the DVD and the resource guide will prove very useful in the elementary classroom and will facilitate important discussions about residential schools.
(Reviewed by Alice Albarda in Vol 22, #2, December 2016)
Truth and Reconciliation: The Legacy of Residential Schools in Canada. LeMay Media & Consulting/McIntyre Media, 2016
Of all the documentaries released by McIntyre this year on the topic of Truth and Reconciliation, this is the one to see. Award-winning Métis writer and director Matt LeMay’s passion shines through even as he steps back and lets his film speak for itself. The documentary features original interviews with contemporary advocates for reconciliation, including Former Assembly of First Nations Chiefs Shawn A-in-Chut Atleo and Phil Fontaine, Truth and Reconciliation Commissionaire Dr. Marie Wilson, Former Executive Director of the Aboriginal Healing Foundation Mike Degagne and residential school survivor, Martha Marsden.
These interviews bring to light the lasting impact of residential schools on Indigenous communities and Canada as a whole, and the film is clear in highlighting the role of non-Indigenous actors in this story. Phil Fontaine asserts: “It isn’t just an experience or a history of our community. It’s Canada’s experience. It’s Canada’s history.”
Combining contemporary and historical images and videos including a 1955 residential school promotional film, LeMay emphasizes that nothing occurs in a vacuum and that the country’s past actions have had serious reverberations. He draws a path from the experiences of Indigenous children in residential schools, to the many Indigenous children relying on child welfare services today and the numerous missing and murdered Indigenous women. Further, he contextualizes the Canadian government’s 2008 apology for atrocities perpetuated by residential schools, presenting it as the culmination of hard work on the part of many Indigenous groups to “dra[g] Canada to the table” and “not allow for this legacy to go unconfronted.” As Shawn A-in-Chut Atleo highlights in the film, residential schools are “casting a dark shadow, a long shadow across the entire country, one that requires in that case for light to be shone.” The recommendations by the Truth and Reconciliation commission emphasize the important role education can play in shining that light. Lemay’s documentary can go a long way in helping students understand that the history of residential schools cannot be relegated to the past.
(Reviewed by Natalie Colaiacovo in Vol. 22, # 4, April 2017)