I am not a number

Jenny Kay Dupuis

Book - 2016

Forced to attend a residential school, Irene Couchie struggles to remember who she is and the ways of her people, despite the abuse she endures.

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Picture books
Toronto, ON : Second Story Press 2016
Physical Description
1 volume (unpaged) : color illustrations ; 29 cm
Main Author
Jenny Kay Dupuis (author)
Other Authors
Kathy Kacer, 1954- (author), Gillian Newland (illustrator)
Review by Booklist Reviews

*Starred Review* While chapter books about Indian boarding schools are available, if not plentiful, few picture books deal with the issue. Dupuis and Kacer's story, based on Anishinaabe-Ojibway Dupuis' family experience, is a welcome addition and should be particularly useful when teaching the history of the wrongs done to Native Americans—in this case, the First Nations of Canada. In the 1930s, eight-year-old Irene is forcibly removed from her life on Nipissing First Nation to attend a Catholic boarding school. The experience is harrowing: her hair is cut, use of her native tongue results in gruesome punishments, and she is not allowed to communicate with her family. Finally, her name is taken away, and she is known merely by a dehumanizing number. Her joy at returning home for the summer is palpable, and her father vows his children will not go back, despite the demands of the government's Indian agent. An afterword explains the residential school system and Dupuis' personal history. Newland's illustrations zero in on the details that will stick with young readers: the scissors about to clip Irene's hair, the meager food, Irene's face after her hideous punishment. When home, her world is brighter, as symbolized by her yellow dress, white laundry on a clothesline, and the golden fields around her house. This well-done, empathetic historical book is highly recommended for all collections. Copyright 2016 Booklist Reviews.

Review by Publishers Weekly Reviews

Kacer (The Magician of Auschwitz, also illustrated by Newland) and educator Dupuis unflinchingly recount a story from the childhood of Dupuis's grandmother, one of some 150,000 Canadian First Nations children relocated to residential schools as part of an assimilation policy. Irene Couchie and two brothers were taken from their family in 1928 to attend a Catholic boarding school. She was assigned a number in lieu of her name, her long hair was unceremoniously cut, and a nun physically abused her for speaking her native language ("even though the red sores had now turned pink, the memory of the punishment had not faded one bit"). The story never shies from the harsh treatment Irene endured, peaking dramatically when the children hide from the agent coming to collect them for a second school year. They were among the lucky ones whose parents took a stand and refused to return them. Most spreads feature a full page of first-person narrative opposite Newland's somber watercolors. An afterword discusses Canada's history with the residential school program (and recent government apologies for it) and provides additional details about her grandmother's life. Ages 7–11. (Sept.) [Page ]. Copyright 2016 PWxyz LLC

Review by School Library Journal Reviews

Gr 4–6—A spotlight on the injustice of Canada's residential school program based on Dupuis's grandmother's childhood experience. The story begins in medias res: the front door is open, and a gruff white man is demanding that Irene Couchie's parents hand over their children—now "wards of the government." Couchie and her two brothers are taken from their home on Nipissing First Nation to attend a residential boarding school many miles away. Couchie learns that names are not allowed at this school; she becomes number 759. Subdued illustrations assist in setting the overall serious tone. The facial expressions of Couchie throughout the year bring the raw hopelessness of the situation to light. Many scenes are alarming; for example, Sister Mary is shown cutting a crying Couchie's hair off. After the kids return home for the summer, Couchie's parents vow to hide their children from the government and the "Indian Agent" sent to recollect them. Back matter contains material on Canada's residential school system, which "educated" indigenous peoples, and the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission condemning the practice in 2015. Dupuis also provides more information about her grandmother. VERDICT Pair this recommended selection with Nicola I. Campbell's Shi-shi-etko for students learning about the boarding school system.—Amy Zembroski, Indian Community School, Franklin, WI. Copyright 2016 School Library Journal.

Review by Publisher Summary 1

A young First Nations girl is sent away to a residential school and is determined not to forget who she is and where she came from.

Review by Publisher Summary 2

When eight-year-old Irene is removed from her First Nations family to live in a residential school 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 and who 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, I Am Not a Number is a hugely necessary book that brings a terrible part of Canada’s history to light in a way that children can learn from and relate to.

Review by Publisher Summary 3

When eight-year-old Irene is removed from her First Nations family to live in a residential school she is confused, frightened, and homesick. She tries to remember who she is and where she came from. When she goes home for the summer, her parents decide never to send her and her brothers away again. But what will happen when they disobey the law?