I Am Not a Number by J.K. Dupuis & K. Kacer
Dupuis, Jenny Kay and Kathy Kacer. I Am Not a Number, illustrated by Gillian Newland. Second Story Press, 2016.
An Indian Agent’s visit to their home on Nipissing Reserve No. 10 begins this harrowing tale of eight-year-old Irene Couchie and two of her young brothers. Their parents, threatened with the force of the law as it then exists, watch helplessly as the children board a bus and are driven away to a residential school. Once there, the youngsters suffer a year of deprivation and abuse, both physical and emotional. By the time they return home at the end of the school year, they are traumatized. Ultimately, Irene reveals what they have endured to their parents, and their father takes a determined stance to protect them.
Dupuis’ story details a segment of her family’s history based on the experience of her grandmother, Irene Couchie Dupuis, student number 759 at the “Spanish Indian Residential School” in 1928. It also details a segment of Canadian history that has now become all too familiar, all too shameful, and all too heartbreaking. The author’s end notes provide a brief outline of the residential school system in Canada, along with photographs of Irene Couchie, her mother and siblings, and her father, Chief Ernest Couchie.
Gillian Newland’s illustrations are a highly realistic, very evocative accompaniment to Dupuis’ text. They set the tone and establish the mood of the story. The reading level of the text would make it accessible to children in upper elementary school. The subject matter, however, suggests its appropriateness for older students, as well, for it raises such issues as child rights, parental rights, Canadian constitutional rights, and Indigenous rights. I Am Not a Number would be an excellent starting point for anyone pursuing these issues.
Highly Recommended: 4 stars out of 4
Reviewer: Leslie Aitken
Leslie Aitken’s long career in librarianship involved selection of children’s literature for school, public, special, and university collections. She is a former Curriculum Librarian at the University of Alberta.
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