Written by: Jenny Kay Depuis and Kathy Kacer
Illustrated by: Gillian Newland
For Ages: 7-11 years
Language: English, some Ojibway.
Topics Covered: Indigenous People, First Nations, Historical Figures, Residential Schools, Culture, Community.
Summary: This book is an emotional look into the story of Irene Couchie Dupuis and her forced residential schooling during her childhood. Irene’s father was the chief of their First Nation community, yet Irene and several of her siblings are forced to attend a year of school away from home. Irene’s mother tells her to never forget who she is, or anything about the life she had known before the residential school. At the school, Irene and the other children are subjected to harsh rules and unkind nuns hellbent on erasing their culture. Their hair is cut, and their names are replaced with numbers. Irene is burned after using her native Ojibway language, and after nearly a year with no familial contact the students are released for a summer at home. Back at home, Irene tells her family what living in the residential school is like and her parents are outraged. The Couchie family comes up with a plan to hide the children after the summer is over, horrified at the prospect of another year enduring more abuse at the hands of the nuns. Irene is outside their home hanging laundry one day when the government agent that took them away the first time is seen walking up the road towards their home. Irene and her two brothers run to their planned hiding place, shaking and afraid. Their father tells the agent he sent his children to stay with family, and the agent can do whatever he wants to him but he will NEVER let the agent take away his children. After what seems like an eternity to Irene, the agent leaves. The children are safe.
- How do you think Irene feels when she is not allowed to use her own name?
- How would you feel if you were Irene, and your father stood up to someone like that?
- Have you heard any stories from your older family members about things that happened in their childhood that doesn’t really happen now?
Continuing the Conversation:
- Learn more about historical figures in your area. What local impact have they made in your community, and why are they a role model for younger generations?
- Speak with older family members about their lives when they were younger. Write an autobiography for them, and look at old photos! What is the same as your life now, and what is different? Would your family members change anything?
About the Author & the Illustrator:
Dr. Jenny Kay Dupuis was born in Northern Ontario and is a proud member of Nipissing First Nation. She is an educator, author, artist, and keynote speaker with over 15 years’ success advancing innovative programs, strategies and research initiatives across Canada focusing on topics pertaining to Indigenous issues, leadership and diversity, inclusion, and the importance of relationship building today. Jenny’s interest in her family’s past and her commitment to teaching about truth and Indigenous realties through literature and the arts drew her to to co-write I Am Not a Number, her first children’s picture book about her granny’s experience at a residential school. Since its release in September 2016, the book has been on CBC Books bestsellers list for 35 weeks. The book was also one of the finalists for the 2017 Canadian Children’s Book Centre Awards, which celebrates the best writing for young readers. I Am Not a Number is up for a several other awards this coming year.
Kathy Kacer was born in Toronto and has lived there her whole life. She has a Masters degree in psychology and worked with troubled teenagers and their families for many years. But she always dreamed of becoming a children’s author. She stopped working full time in 1998 to pursue this dream. Her first book, The Secret of Gabi’s Dresser, is based on a true story about her mother whose name was Gabi. She has gone on to write many more books about real people living through the Holocaust. A winner of the Silver Birch, Red Maple, Hackmatack and Jewish Book Awards, and a finalist for the Geoffrey Bilson and Norma Fleck Awards, she has written many unforgettable stories inspired by real events. Her books have also been published in many countries including Germany, China, Slovenia, Thailand, England, Japan, and Belgium. Her novels are stories of hope, courage, and humanity in the face of overwhelming adversity.
Gillian Newland is an artist. She works mostly in watercolour, ink and pencils.