I Am Not a Number

i-am-not-a-number51pjv54bwrl__sx384_bo1204203200_I Am Not a Number

Dr. Jenny Kay Dupuis and Kathy Kacer, Authors

Gillian Newland, Illustrator

Second Story Press, Fiction, Oct. 4, 2016

Suitable for Ages: 7-11

Themes: Native people, Indigenous children, Residential schools, First Nation, Canada

Opening: The dark figure, backlit by the sun, filled the doorway of our home on Nipissing Reserve Number 10. “I’m here for the children,” the shadowy giant said, point a long finger at me. “You! How old?”

Synopsis: Eight-year-old Irene and her family live together on Nipissing First Nation, until the day a government agent arrives and takes Irene and her two brothers away to live at a residential school, far from home.  Her parents have no choice, or they will sent to jail. As the kids are put in a car, her mother tells Irene, “Never forget home or our ways. Never forget who you are.”

At the residential school the girls and boys are separated. Sister Mary tells Irene that she is not to use her name and she is assigned a number. She is 759. Sister Mary cuts her long locks of hair and gives her a grey uniform to wear. Irene is confused, frightened and homesick. There are so many rules. When she speaks to another girl in her native language she is punished. Every day at the school is gloomy and filled with routines: prayers, breakfast, chores and studies. When summer break arrives, Irene and her brothers are sent home. When she shares how they have been treated with her parents, they vow never to send their children back to the residential school. Will they be able devise a plan to keep their children from returning?  Where will the siblings go?

Why I like this book:

I am Not a Number is based on the true story of co-author Dr. Jenny Kay Dupuis’ grandmother, Irene Couchie Dupuis, an Anishinaabe women who was born into a First Nation community in Northern Ontario. It is profound story that offers a penetrating look at how Indigenous children were taken away from their families and put into residential schools run by religious groups and forced to forget about their language, customs and heritage. It isn’t an easy subject to broach, but the story is told with sensitivity and the language is age-appropriate for children. The authors have written an important teaching tool for both Canadian and American children about this injustice. This happened to Dr. Dupuis’ grandmother in 1928 — not so long ago. Gillian Newland’s illustrations are beautiful and moving. Her tones are subdued and elicit a lot of emotion. Excellent collaboration among the authors and illustrator.

Resources: There is a special section at the end about the real-life Irene and her family with photos. There is information about the Residential Schools System with photos. This is an excellent book to teach children about the history of residential schools in the 1920s. A powerful look at Canadian history and First Nation children, this book would work well paired with When I Was Eight by Christy Jordan-Fenton.

Dr. Jenny Kay Dupuis is of Anishinaabe/Ojibway ancestry and a proud member of Nipissing First Nation. She is an educator, researcher, artist, and speaker who works full-time supporting the advancement of Indigenous education.  Jenny’s interest in her family’s history drew her to co-write I am Not a Number.

Kathy Kacer is well-known for her children’s books about the Holocaust, including The Secret of Gabi’s Dresser and The Magician of Auschwitz.

Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book. To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books (PPB) with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s Perfect Picture Books.

About Patricia Tiltonhttps://childrensbooksheal.wordpress.comI want "Children's Books Heal" to be a resource for parents, grandparents, teachers and school counselors. My goal is to share books on a wide range of topics that have a healing impact on children who are facing challenges in their lives. If you are looking for good books on grief, autism, visual and hearing impairments, special needs, diversity, bullying, military families and social justice issues, you've come to the right place. I also share books that encourage art, imagination and creativity. I am always searching for those special gems to share with you. If you have a suggestion, please let me know.

34 thoughts on “I Am Not a Number

    • This was the first time I heard about this history. The book is presented in a way that is appropriate for kids. I hope you read it. I’m going to review a MG novel, “The Mask that Sang,” on Monday that has an element of this subject in the story.

      Like

  1. A dark part of Canadian history and important to be told. It took courage for Dr. Dupuis to share this story and I´m so glad she did. There is no repairing the damage done at that time. Modern children should learn from it and what better way than through a book.

    Like

  2. Thanks for sharing this,Patricia. I didn’t realise this situation occurred in Canada and the US. It is very similar to what happened here in Australia to our indigenous children and families, and sadly, not all that long ago. How inhumanely these families were treated. There is a wonderful but tragic, and also true story, of what happened to some of our children, also made into an powerful movie, “The Rabbit-Proof Fence”. At least one of the children, now an older woman, is still living and is interviewed at the end of the movie.

    Like

    • It is an important topic for kids and adults to learn about. Thanking for sharing. I remember in the movie “Australia” where the indigenous boy is sent off. I hadn’t realized it was a residential school until now. Will have to look up the movie “The Rabi-t Proof Fence.” Thanks!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. What an important topic for us all to learn more about. While I don’t believe anything like this is occurring in the world today, families are still being separated by war, economic hardship and natural disasters, and children are still forced to give up native languages and cultures to adapt to dominant cultures in which they find themselves. I’m sure this will be a great discussion starter in many classrooms and families. Thank you for sharing this book!

    Like

  4. Pingback: The Mask that Sang by Susan Currie | Children's Books Heal

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s