(ANNews) – Teaching children about the Indian Residential School era is very difficult but it is vitally important. Indigenous educator Dr. Jenny Kay Dupuis and award winning author Kathy Kacer meet this challenge effectively and beautifully in their recently published picture book entitled “I am Not a Number.”
The two collaborate to tell the story of eight-year-old Irene and her family who live happily on the Nipissing First Nation until a government agent comes to their home to take Irene and two of her brothers away to live in a residential school far from their community. Irene’s parents don’t want to send their children away but they are given no choice.
At the residential school, Irene is separated from her brothers; 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. They denigrate her and 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 Irene Couchie Dupuis, “I Am Not a Number” is a powerful teaching tool that brings a terrible part of Canada’s history to light in a way that children can learn from and relate to. It is written in simple language and told in a way that will stimulate conversations about residential schools and the traumatic effects they have had on generations of First Nation families and communities.
The book is beautifully illustrated by Gillian Newland. She captures the somber mood of the school, the anguish of the children, the severity of the nuns and the desperation of the family. Students can easily empathize with Irene and her brothers as well as their parents as they try to imagine how they would feel or act in a similar situation.
“I Am Not a Number” includes a special concluding section with photographs of the real-life Irene and her family and a written description of the Residential School System.
Dr. Jenny Kay Dupuis is on Anishinaabe/Ojibway ancestry and is 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. Kathy Kacer is a former psychologist and acclaimed author, known for her children’s books about the Holocaust.
“I Am Not a Number” is published by Second Story Press (secondstorypress.ca), a Canadian-based publishing house that was founded in 1988 and is dedicated to publishing “great books that matter” for adults and young readers. Their catalogue of award winning books includes fiction and non-fiction as well as picture books for children. They generally feature strong female characters and explore themes of social justice, human rights, equality and ability issues.