Youth Book Corner: National Indigenous History Month

In honor of June commemorating National Indigenous History Month and in the aftermath of the recent findings at a residential school in BC, our Outreach Coordinator, Leena Desai, recommends books for youth by Indigenous authors that discuss residential schools.

Written by Nicola Campbell, illustrated by Kim Lafave

Nicola Campbell’s Shi-shi-etko captures the thoughts going through a young girl’s mind four days before she is going to start residential school. Shi-shi-etko makes the most of her last few days at home, canoeing with her grandfather, spending time with her mother, and listening to the stories her grandmother has to tell her. She absorbs all the valuable teachings and takes in the beauty of her home so that she can find solace in them when she is no longer there. Shi-shi-etko is accompanied by a note by Campbell which provides context for the text, but the story itself never mentions where exactly Shi-shi-etko is going and what will happen once she gets there. This makes the book an essential primer for educating students about residential schools and introducing the concept of foreshadowing in literature. Students can then read the sequel Shin-chi’s Canoe to read about Shi-shi-etko and her brother Shin-chi’s experiences at the residential school. Grades Preschool-2

I Am Not a Number
Written by Jenny Kay Dupuis and Kathy Kacer, illustrated by Gillian Newland

I Am Not a Number is based on the true story of co-author Jenny Kay Dupuis’s grandmother. We meet eight-year-old Irene, who is taken from her family and made to live in a residential school. Irene cannot keep her real name, her long hair, or her native language. But despite the cruelty of the nuns towards her and other students, Irene never forgets who she is and where she comes from. When she goes back home for the summer holidays, her parents decide not to send her and her brother to the residential school again, even if that means hiding from the school authorities and disobeying the law. I Am Not a Number shows—in a way that children can learn from and relate to—what happened at residential schools and the repercussions involved for Indigenous people for breaking laws that were made to curb their freedom and destroy their culture. Grades 3-6

Sugar Falls: A Residential School Story
Written by David A. Robertson, illustrated by Scott B. Henderson

Like I Am Not a Number, Sugar Falls is based on a true story of a residential school survivor. This is the story of Betty Ross, Elder from Cross Lake First Nation. The book is written as a graphic novel and follows a high-schooler named Daniel who has to interview a residential-school survivor for a school assignment. Daniel meets Betsy, his friend’s grandmother, who tells him her story. Betsy was abandoned as a child, but adopted into a loving family. Just when things were looking up for her, she was taken away to a residential school when she was eight. There Betsy faced abuse, cruelty, indignity, and attempts to erase her identity. On the long and lonely nights at the school, Betsy longed for her home, Sugar Falls, and held on to the words her father told her for courage and survival. Sugar Falls is another essential book in the canon of great literature on the subject of residential schools, because it illustrates not just what children went through when they were there but the long-term psychological trauma they endured as a result of their experiences. Grades 9-12


Leena Desai