When We Were Alone

Written by: David A. Robertson

Illustrated by: Julie Flett

For Ages: Infant and up

Language: English and Cree

Topics Covered: Indigenous Voices, Residential Schools, First Nations,

Summary: This tender board book explores the history of residential schooling that was inflicted upon Indigenous and First Nations people.  A young girl helps her grandmother in the garden and asks questions about things her grandmother does, such as wearing bright colors, having long hair, and speaking in Cree.  The narrator’s grandmother tells of the times in her childhood that she was forced to live in a residential school, and had her autonomy, culture, and language taken away.

The book’s typography changes colors when speaking about past and present, which is a beautiful representation and goes well with Flett’s illustrations.  The book approaches this time in history in an accurate and easy to understand way for young children.  It is a story of a young girl subverting authority with an emphasis on explanation and healing; a grandmother living her truth despite those that tried to steal her culture demanding submission from the Indigenous children they took from their families under the guise of education.

Reflection Questions:

  • How would you feel if you were told not to do things important to your family and culture?
  • How do you think the children feel when they sneak away and remind themselves how important their culture is to their identity?
  • Do you think the children feel better once they’re back with their families instead of at the residential school?

Continuing the Conversation:

  • Residential schooling is an important part of Indigenous history. Learn about all types of schooling as part of an in-depth unit about schools around the world, as well as in your community.
  • Invite a classroom guest to come and talk about their culture!
  • Talk with elders in your community about how they grew up.  What things are different from how you’re growing up today?  What things are the same?

About the Author & the Illustrator:

david a robertsonDavid A. Robertson is an award-winning writer. His books include When We Were Alone (Governor General’s Literary Award winner, McNally Robinson Best Book for Young People winner, TD Canadian Children’s Literature Award finalist), Will I See? (winner of the Manuela Dias Book Design and Illustration Award Graphic Novel Category), and the YA novel Strangers. David educates as well as entertains through his writings about Canada’s Indigenous Peoples reflecting their cultures, histories, communities, as well as illuminating many contemporary issues. David is a member of Norway House Cree Nation. He lives in Winnipeg.

julie flettJulie Flett is a Cree-Metis author, illustrator, and artist. She has received many awards including the 2017 Governor General’s Award for Children’s Literature for her work on When We Were Alone by David Robertson (High Water Press), the 2016 American Indian Library Association Award for Best Picture Book for Little You by Richard Van Camp (Orca Books), and she is the three-time recipient of the Christie Harris Illustrated Children’s Literature Award for Owls See Clearly at Night; A Michif Alphabet, by Julie Flett, Dolphin SOS, by Roy Miki and Slavia Miki (Tradewind Books), and My Heart Fills with Happiness, by Monique Gray Smith (Orca Books). Her own Wild Berries (Simply Read Books) was featured in The New York Times and included among Kirkus’s Best Children’s Books of 2013. Wild Berries was also chosen as Canada’s First Nation Communities Read title selection for 2014–2015.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s