Quick Things You Need To Know:
- This collection references to the experience of Indigenous (mostly First Nations & Native American) people forced into residential schools through what is currently called the USA and Canada.
- For more, google #OrangeShirtDay, ‘Kill the Indian in the child,’ Chanie Wenjack
- While it’s our job here to include, acknowledge, and learn about Indigenous culture, history, and issues, this is way outside my lane.
- In kidlit specific to the Indigenous experience within what is currently known as the US, I defer to Deb Reese of American Indians In Children’s Literature, who is an #OwnVoices Nambe Pueblo Indigenous scholar of kidlit, and she’s been at this longer than me, with lived experience and formal training and stuff. Her humor and writing is a joy, but Deb’s website is dense and hard to flow through. So I haven’t even scratched the surface in reading it.
- Another fantastic resource is Beverly Slapin & Co.’s Des Colores – the Raza Experience in Children’s Literature, which focuses on Chicanx/Latinx kidlit.
- Another website that is trustworthy but I haven’t had a chance to read is Oyate, which I think hasn’t been updated since around 2012.
- The following booklists are where I’m parking my notes, but without the experience and knowledge of the people above they don’t count for much. My thoughts and opinions should take a back-seat and you should defer to #OwnVoices Indigenous critics.
- When possible, I cross reference my research to double-check that it’s not problematic and gain #OwnVoices insight with the above websites, along with Doris Searle’s reference book, A Broken Flute. Which also is dense and impossible to read cover-to-cover, but is full of humor, sarcasm, and is quite fun to read.
Rough Book Notes
Validating books for Indigenous families who already know about the generational trauma of residential schools & colonialism
- When We were Alone – this board book is about subtle resistance, emotionally supportive siblings, and alludes to trauma without speaking to the violence of residential schools and colonization. While it’s a good validating book to start talking about residential schools, particularly for families affected by them, the story itself tap-dances around the topic in a way that might be problematic for settlers & colonists. I can totally see fragile white folks reading this having NO IDEA the depth and meaning behind the text and images, so I’m not comfortable with the risk of white and non-indigenous POC treating this as one-and-done ‘diversity’ reading. With the right adult and scaffolding, it’s a powerful book though.
- Fall in line, holden – vandever – i like the idea, but the execution is way off for child readers and it’s centered for adults. Supposed to be about residential schools but there’s really no way for readers to extract that from the story. Set in present day, which I appreciate, because that forces readers to realize that we still expect indigenous folks to assimilate to white culture. the lack of story (literally it’s just kids walking down a hall, with Holden getting distracted and imagining things as he walks past classrooms) was disengaging, and the creepy negative space and bare minimum illustrator graphics were distracting. (it looks like he hit line trace on images, then reduced the anchor points to the point just before they are impossible to figure out what it’s supposed to illustrate #AdobeIllustratorIrks) At the end, they all go flying out to recess, and get to stop conforming. but this isn’t what happend, and residential school abuse isn’t as tame as just telling him to get into line. confusing. assimilation, conformity, #OwnVoices indigenous maker (Navajo)
- my heart fills with happiness (see bfl post 11/30/17) – gray smith – perfect for Q reading aloud a 6.5. normalizing indigenous families. Bland and forgettable for 3+ so stick with infants and toddlers. Normalizes indigenous American children & culture. book is dedicated to “former Indian residential school students and their families.” but beyond that the text doesn’t allude to colonization. board book, ‘my heart fills with happiness when… i see the face of someone i love. I smell bannock baking in the oven.” includes things like walking in grass, but also dancing in traditional attire, drumming, etc. normalizes modern Indigenous folks, and very cute for toddlers. too simple for 3, particularly for settlers growing up outside Indigenous culture. Bannock and drumming don’t mean much to the Earthquakes as we lost these connections 2 generations back, but worth having around for younger littles. board books.
- We sang you home – (van camp) cute, but cishet families ONLY. normalizes modern indigenous families, makes a cute baby shower board book gift. feels like this SHOULD go along with a tune, but I can’t figure out how on earth it would. For families with knowledge and generational trauma from residential schools and having children displaced by adoption to white families, this is a powerful title with a powerful message. for a casual reader without lived scaffolding, it’s just a bland baby board book. The premise is of moving on, kind of an Indigenous Futures tone – “As we give you roots you give us wings / And though you we are born again.” – Notice this is not written for kids with literal thought. “Our forever home is inside of you.” so cute! so floofy and confusing! tiny text at the ends suggest the book contains gentle rhyming – maybe I am misunderstanding what constitutes a rhyme., or the pages are out of order? #OwnVoices indigenous makers
Touches residential schools but doesn’t get traumatic (for fragile/beginner readers)
shi-shi-etko (Campbell) beautifully written but won’t hold the attention of my 5y, so best for older kids. slightly poetic, and not really a story so much as scenes of the days as she counts down sleeps until she has to leave for school. not scary or negative, so the writer allows parents to fill in the gaps as to why she has to leave, and children to fill in how they would feel in that situation. buildings and clothing look modern, although it could be from as far back as the 50’s. makes no reference to why she’s leaving in the story, so you have to read the foreword to know this is the Canadian government’s mandate and it’s the law that they take children away. points out last residential school closed in canada in 1984. “the effects of the residential school system continue to hurt native people today. It is said that it will take seven generations for our people to heal” girl savors her homeland, family and life before she has to leave. except for when they are sleeping or lyig in bed, illutrator chooses to only show the backs of people’s heads in scenes. Why? empathetic every-man situation? or the illustrator just doesn’t know how to draw faces? it made it very hard for Q to engage with those images of people walking away from the reader. all the colors were in perpetual sunset, so it feels like a very sleepy book. girls of color , first nations, #OwnVoices Indigenous makers
- Shin-Chi’s canoe (campbell) – sequel to shi-shi-etko, and similarly appropriate for fragile readers. (less dark and scary than when i was eight.) boy and girl forced to go to residential school (parents don’t want them to go, are taken away from state). girl asks dad to cut her braids early since they did it last year and wants to have control over it. more focus on gender segregation, how the siblings aren’t allowed to talk to each other until thy go home at the end of the year. good book for fragile kids, but doesn’t cover much that ‘when I was eight’ doesn’t cover. would be a good prequel or in tandem to ‘when we were alone’ to give it context. wraps up in an oddly happy note with them coming home to a surprise canoe dad carved for them, as if it wasn’t that bad, like a regular school year. does mention how they didn’t have enough food. Feels censored – paired with lafave’s refusal to draw faces and focus on the backs of people’s heads makes this really disengaging. #OwnVoices indigenous makers, siblings
Books about residential schools that ask more from the reader
- The Star people – nelson – okay for 1 read, was a little over the 4yo’s head. 6yo wasn’t super into it, but understood. Story premise: they get lost, forest fire, can’ find their way back, grandmother comes down from the sky and guides them. elders, death (coping after death of grandparent collection MAYBE, but not really), #OwnVoices indigenous makers (standing rock sioux). The end notes are the interesting part – the story takes place during the initiative to ‘kill the indian in the child’ and destroy their culture by forcing kids into residential schools. While the story doesn’t mention it, if we’re looking at this story in terms of metaphor (forest fire = colonization & cultural destruction) (elder spirit guide = decolonizing by way of re-learning and establishing Indigenous culture), we can see how elders guide the next generation back to a place of safety and love. Which, when you look at it that way – wow. Gorgeous. But definitely above the heads of 4 & 6.
- When I was Eight – jordan-fenton – was too young for it at 5, but 6 is perfect. this brought up our family history of toxic catholic school, on how grown ups controlled children through oppression and fear and shame. very dark, and a LOT to deal with here about abuse, from her getting her hair cut off against her will (non-consent & trauma), being humiliated, having peers turned against her (isolation), being locked in the basement, how she was there to clean, not to learn how to read and had to teach herself. this gave Q some appreciation for the education he has. based on the real story of Margaret (Olemaun) Pokiak-Fenton. #OwnVoices indigenous makers, tenacity. too scary and dark for 4 and under. some allusion to alice in wonderland where hte nun is the red queen and hte girl is alice in a strange new land “I was Olemaun, conqueror of evil, reader of books. I was a girl who travele to a srange and faraway lan to stand against a tyrant, like alice. And like Alice, I was brave, clever, and as unyeilding as he strong stone that sharpens an ulu. I finally knew this, like I knew many things, becuase now I could read.” bibliophiles,
- Not My Girl – Sequel to ‘when I was eight’ – and a very powerful one. The two need to be read together. While When I was Eight covers the personal trauma, ‘Not My Girl’ touches in the reverberating impact and how colonizing education disrupts generations and entire cultures. residential school has successfully whitewashed her diet, and she finds it hard to stomach food she once loved, which adds another aspect (there are many in this book) of how having our culture ripped away causes trauma that doesn’t easily (if ever) heal. Too advanced for 4, but Q really had a lot to think about with it at 6. talked abou how she felt being rejected by her mother, how coming home should have been a relief but insead she’s an outsider, feels useless in chores, can’t eat the food she used to love, lost her language and even he dogs don’t love her. the extra dimension of her uninentional harm to a puppy, keeping him from his mother and almost killing him, implies a level of understanding and even an hoping for understanding (if not forgiveness) on why white folks didn’t realize how horrifying supremacy plays out. UGH SO GOOD! impact over intent, colonization, olemaun returns from residental school to immediately hear “not my girl!” from her mother…”the birds in my heart fell from their sky.” eventually is accepted back into her community. 8+ for fragile families
- Home To Medicine Mountain – I wrote about this way back in the BFL group & Wealth Inequality series: Imagine sending your littles to a boarding school far across the country, only accessible by a three-day train ride you can’t afford. Imagine this school, in the few years it’s been running, contains a campus cemetery holding 100 students who had fallen ill or been tortured and murdered by staff. Attendance to this school is mandatory, because your community had been at the forefront of a failed resistance. This is not a horror movie. This is our history. It’s not even a dusty history – the last residential school closed in the 80’s. Attempting to do the same thing as the boys in this book, a 12-year-old Ojibwe boy named Charlie Wenjack died of hunger and exposure in 1966, trying to escape and find his way home. The Carlisle Indian Industrial School, founded by colonialist and white supremacist Richard Henry Pratt in 1879, founded this and 26 other schools like it on this motto: “All the Indian there is in the race should be dead. Kill the Indian in him, and save the man.” That, my friends, is how white supremacy veils violence as charity. Pratt thought this was a compassionate alternative to murdering children in cold blood (which was also an option). These ‘schools’ were designed to obliterate Indigenous american & First Nations culture by indoctrinating the next generation into white supremacy. Let’s not even get into the physical and sexual abuse these kids endured. How they lost their language, their connection to home, and their feeling of belonging. (Another great book that touches on this pain of loss is the sequel to ‘When I was Eight,’ ‘Not My Girl’ – read both of these.) This is colonialism, folks. This is a strategy still used today. First, colonizers send the missionaries, bearing gifts of free education and support. Colonizers convert the children and break up families and communities. With a broken community, people are forced to rely on settler systems and colonizer handouts. Then, colonizers invade and decimate. Over, and over, and over again – all over the world. Using this book to spark discussion with my 5yo, I was able to introduce the concept of supremacy in our education system. We discussed the fallacy of better/worse superior/inferior perspectives on the way we live. How the white staff assumed shoes were better than going barefoot – but are they actually? How and when it’s okay to break rules – and at what risk, at what cost? Teaching our kids about residential schools is painful and hard. But it’s also necessary to uncover the intentional design of oppression. R2 stayed engaged, but most of the story flew over his head at 3, so I recommend it for ages 4.5+. posted 08/25/17
- i am not a number – cover is dark and spooky – kind of looks like a Japanese horror film – three First Nations children are taken away from their family, as wards of the government that belong to the gov. if they don’t go, parents will be fined or set to jail. too scary to read to 5yo esp in this climate when so many people are scared of ICE taking them away and breaking up families. illustrations are bleak and dystopian. kids are given numbers instead of names, cut her hair, gave them barely any food, abused them for speaking native Ojibway tongue. not allowed to write letters or mix with the outside world. able to go home for the summer, family tries to hide the kids. irene couchie dupuis is a real woman who went to residential school. true story of author’s grandmother. #OwnVoices Indigenous makers. story is cognitively accessible for 5+ but I’m waiting until at least 8+
- Jim Thorpe’s Bright Path (Bruchac) #OwnVoices Makers (Bruchac is ?, Nelson is of Lakota heritage) – This is waiting on the bookshelf to test with Q at 7y. It’s very wordy and the illustrations are dated, but the story looks good, I’ll update this later to tell you how it goes.