I AM NOT A NUMBER. By Jenny Kay Dupuis and Kathy Kacer. Illustrated by Gillian Newland. 32 pp. Toronto: Second Story Press. $18.95.
The following ISBNs are associated with this title:
ISBN – 10: 1927583942
ISBN – 13: 9781927583944
By Stephanie Joe
A true story about the Canadian residential school system.
This true story is based on Irene Couchie —Jenny Kay Dupuis’ grandmother— experience at residential school in 1928.
Eight-year-old Irene is taken from her family, along with her two brothers, from the Nipissing First Nation reserve to live at Spanish Indian Residential School. Like so many Aboriginal children at the time, the Couchie children were forced from their loving family to live in a place of mistreatment and abuse.
An Indian agent comes to the Couchie residence to pry the children from their home and bring them to a residential school to “learn many things.” Irene’s mother asks that she never forget who she is or where she comes from.
The book has a happy ending, an outcome that is unfortunately not the case for approximately 150, 000 First Nation, Metis and Inuit children across Canada.
It’s important to teach children about true Canadian history, but it’s not easy to talk about it in a way that children will understand. I Am Not a Number is perfect to get the conversation about residential schools started with your children. It opens the door for them to ask questions about the subject and the story is relatable in a way they can follow. Recommended for 7 to 11 year olds; I will definitely be reading this story to my 10-year-old son, so we can have that conversation that I’m sure he hasn’t learned in school just yet.
The authors capture the essence of the history of that time through the world of Irene. She’s young and she doesn’t understand what is happening to her. Seeing the world through the eyes of an innocent child gives the traumatic history of First Nations children an honest perspective.
The illustrations are simple and neutral—which adds to the theme of the story.
There are photographs of the real Irene Couchie, along with a brief history of residential schools, which gives background and context to the story.
It’s not an easy story to live through, let alone tell. The thought of having to give your children up for months, and not knowing what happens to them or if they’re being cared for, is disturbing enough. Finding out what actually happens to them at these schools is heartbreaking.
Residential schools are a part of Canadian history, and the sooner children learn about them the sooner we can reach reconciliation. I believe this story is working towards that. It’s important that we honour Irene’s story, along with other children of residential schools, by reading and discussing this story with our children.