I Am Not a Number

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Image Credit: Second Story Press, Jenny Kay Dupuis & Kathy Kacer/Gillian Newland

“Meta” picture books have their place, cute bunnies, princesses and dragons in picture books have their place too. But there’s no denying the power of a non-fiction narrative to teach. I Am Not a Number teaches about an often overlooked and ignored part of the history of Native peoples in the Americas; the history of boarding/residential schools and the pain associated with settler colonialism.

In I Am Not a Number, Anishinaabe/Ojibway (Nipissing First Nation) author and educator Dr. Jenny Kay Dupuis shares her grandmother’s story. With the help of author Kathy Kacer, Dupuis takes a tough and emotional subject and creates a learning tool. This book can also help First Nations children and families with healing and bringing forward stories of trauma. The emotional control and abuse afflicted upon children by Christian missionaries and the government has had lasting effects on First Nations communities. Some of the more well known examples of detrimental residential boarding school systems are in Australia, Canada and the United States. Here in the United States, Capt. Richard H. Pratt, founder of the Carlisle School, said that instead of killing “The Indian” one must “kill the Indian in him, and save the man.” Generations of Indigenous people around the world have suffered emotional trauma under states determined to “civilize” them.

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Image Credit: Second Story Press, Jenny Kay Dupuis & Kathy Kacer/Gillian Newland

 

I Am Not a Number begins on the Nipissing Reserve Number 10 in Ontario, Canada and follows young Irene as she’s forced to leave her home with two of her bothers. The Indian agent represents the law and Irene’s parents must send their children to residential school with him. Irene doesn’t know what awaits her but holds her mother’s words “Never forget who you are!” close. As the title of the book suggests, the children are stripped of the basic right of a name at the school; numbers are what the nuns refer to them by. They’re also beaten (and worse) for speaking their language. I Am Not a Number does not shy away from the gritty details of abuse in residential schools. This transparency is necessary for telling these stories. When summer finally comes, Irene and her brothers are allowed to go home for a while and the familiarity of their food, land and family are like a balm. Even speaking her language feel strange, though, and she suffers nightmares. Irene’s parents make the decision to fight to keep their children, no matter the consequences!

I’m glad for the back ground information at the end of the book about Canadian residential schools and especially Jenny Kay Dupuis’ afterword about her grandmother, Irene Couchie Dupuis. In addition to powerful storytelling, this book has moving and beautiful illustrations. Using a palette of grays, browns and greens, Gillian Newland brings Irene’s experience (and strength) to life for the reader. The images in this book don’t directly portray physical abuse but they show the aftermath in fearful, stunned and pained expressions. She also does a great job of portraying love; my favorite spread is of Irene and her father, forehead to forehead, eyes locked and comforting. Relieved to be reunited.

This is an important book that I hope you’ll take the time to experience with your children. Children’s non-fiction picture books are powerful and necessary for teaching history, empathy and respect. Thanks for sharing your grandmother’s story, Jenny Kay Dupuis!

 

 

Recommended for: 2nd Grade and up
Great for: Strength, Friendship, Indigenous Peoples, Boarding Schools, Family, Love, Resilience, Determination, Community, Canadian History, Colonialism, Emotional Trauma, Religion, Social Justice, Social Issues
Book Info: I Am Not a Number by Jenny Kay Dupuis and Kathy Kacer/Illustrated by Gillian Newland, 2016 Second Story Press, ISBN: 9781927583944

Voice of Freedom Fannie Lou Hamer: Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement

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Image Credit: Candlewick Press, Carole Boston Weatherford/Ekua Holmes

“We serve God by serving our fellow man.”

Fannie Lou Hamer spent her entire life doing just that, fighting for black people’s rights to equality and justice. This mighty woman was one of class, power, strength and dignity. I see my grandmother in Fannie Lou Hamer’s big body and I see my mother in her strength despite her weariness. She suffered yet continued to rise and speak, and sing, and empower.

Weatherford does an amazing job (as usual) of crafting Fannie’s voice as we follow her story from childhood to adulthood. The words of the book are a combination of Weatherford’s storytelling and Fannie’s powerful quotes. While reading, I reflected on history and couldn’t help but compare the struggles people faced during her time to those of people of color today. I admire her strength. She grew up poor, the youngest of twenty children, picking cotton in the fields while living and breathing injustice. From an early age, she saw that black people didn’t have it equal; that they had to work hard just to get a little.

Fannie eventually marries and loses the ability to have her own children (her body is policed by white supremacy and classism) but she yearns for change and starts to push for black voters’ rights. Her determination to vote brings attacks on her life but she keeps moving forward to become a leader of the SNCC. Her spirit is never broken. She runs for Congress several times and reaches back to help the younger generation with Freedom Summers. Towards the end of her life she starts programs to help poor folks and also wins a lawsuit to integrate the public schools of her home county in Mississippi.

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Image Credit: Candlewick Press, Carole Boston Weatherford/Ekua Holmes

I spent just as much time enjoying Ekua Holmes’ illustrations as I did Weatherford’s words. After reading the rich text I’d turn to the illustrations and let them have their turn speaking to me. So much is packed into her painting-collages; varying shades of brown for skin, angular faces, flower bursts, patchwork, and texture. I love the pages where young Fannie holds a cotton plant quietly as her family members drag the long white bags that resemble ghosts and the final page, an older Fannie’s strong and beautiful profile with the American flag behind her. Weatherford’s books always have amazing art and this one is no exception.

When I think on this woman, I wonder…was there ever a selfish bone in her body? No. Fannie Lou Hamer’s life was in every way about service.

What a picture book. What a way to start many meaningful discussions. Voice of Freedom Fannie Lou Hamer: Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement is deserving of all the honors it has received.

We’re still pushing ahead Fannie.

 

Recommended for: 2nd Grade and up
Great for: Civil Rights, Diversity, Discussion, Jim Crow, Segregation, Racism, Community, Family, Relationships, Black Girl Magic, Strength, Determination, Friendship, African-American, Social Issues, Social Justice, Injustice, Black History Month, Black History Month Children’s Books
Book Info: Voice of Freedom Fannie Lou Hamer: Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement by Carole Boston Weatherford/Illustrated by Ekua Holmes, 2015 Candlewick Press, ISBN: 9780763665319

Joelito’s Big Decision

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Image Credit: Hard Ball Press, Ann Berlak, Daniel Camacho, José Antonio Galloso

This book discusses making change and social justice in an easy way for children to understand. They can connect to Joelito, his friend and his struggle to make a big decision. It’ll get your children thinking about what they can do to improve our world and to ensure that everyone makes a living wage.

In Joelito’s Big Decision, Joelito wakes up Friday morning thinking about his family’s weekly trip to MacMann’s for burgers! At school, when his sister’s best friend’s backpack is stolen, he makes a comment that she can just go buy another one; he doesn’t get that his family is economically in a better place than his friend’s. Excited to finally get his burger, his family heads to MacMann’s but there are a lot of people standing outside with signs and no one’s eating. A big protest is happening because MacMann’s pays low wages and the workers can’t live on what they make. Turns out his best friend Brandon’s mom and dad work there and they’re a part of the strike too! When Brandon invites Joelito to join the strike, Joelito is hesitant (he wants to sit and eat his burger!) and he has to decide what is most important to him.

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Image Credit: Hard Ball Press, Ann Berlak, Daniel Camacho, José Antonio Galloso

Joelito has to step outside his comfort zone. Until he encounters the strike, he doesn’t really notice that his friend’s family is struggling to make ends meet. Things become personal for him and he empathizes. Sometimes, something as simple as giving up a favorite treat can show how much you care for someone…and for a cause.

Daniel Camacho’s illustrations are very cool. I like the raw sketchy quality of the color pencil, his use of color, and the large, chunky bodies and hands of his figures. His illustrations suit the story very well. An extra treat to this book is that it’s bi-lingual (English & Spanish) and this duality will make it accessible to more children, which is excellent and needed.

I really recommend this book for discussion and learning. Teachers, look at this page from Hard Ball Press for ideas on how to use this book in the classroom!

 

Recommended for: 1st grade and up
Great for: Social Justice, Social Issues, Friendship, Change, Economic Inequality, Empathy, Family, Immigrants, Latin-American, Low Wages, Moving, Perspective, Poverty, Relationships, Spanish Language, Struggles, We Need Diverse Books, Diversity
Book Info: Joelito’s Big Decision by Ann Berlak/Illustrated by Daniel Camacho/Translated by José Antonio Galloso, 2015 Hard Ball Press, ISBN: 9780986240096