Monday, October 7, 2019

When We Were Alone: A Review and a Giveaway

Every once in awhile you run across a picture book that informs readers in a beautifully, albeit sad manner. When We Were Alone by David Robertson and illustrated by Julie Flett is one of those books.



The book is accessible to young readers and also speaks powerfully to adults. Featuring a story within a story, the book opens with a Nósisim (my grandchild), asking her Nókom (her grandmother) about things that are different about her. The girl notices that her grandmother wears colorful clothes "like she dresses in rainbows," that she wears her hair in a long braid, speaks in Cree, and spends time with her family.   


With every answer,  Nókom tells a short story about how when she was young she was sent to a school far from home. For example, at the school, the girls had to wear clothes that "weren't colorful at all. We all mixed together like storm clouds."  Nókom says, "They wanted us all to be like everybody else." So now, her grandmother loves to wear colorful clothes. 



When Nósisim asks why her grandmother wears her hair in a long braid, she explains that they cut all the girls hair and "Our strands of hair mixed together like blades of dead grass."



"But sometimes when we were alone, we would pick the blades from the ground. We would braid them into the short hair they had given us, and we would have long hair again."




With lovely rhythm and repetition, Nókom explains how whenever something was taken from them, she and her friends would come together "when they were alone" and find a way to remember their home, their language, and their people. 

Educators, you will find an excellent classroom resource here for K-3rd grade. This would be a great book to use on Indigenous Peoples' Day is October 14th.

David Robertson (Norway House Cree Nation) and Julie Flett  (Cree-Metis) are significant contributors to Native Nations literature and artwork. Joyce Hostetter and I are giving away this book, courtesy of Portage & Main Press, through our Native Nations issue of Talking Story to be published on October 9. Leave a comment (alone with your email address if you are new to my blog) and I'll enter your name. If you leave a comment through the newsletter, I'll enter your name twice. Giveaway ends October 14.

25 comments:

Unknown said...

This book is such a great introduction to residential schools. It's gentle portrayal of grandmother and granddaughter sharing grandmother's story of her experience is accessible for younger readers while older readers can infer the journey to reconciliation and witness grandmother's resilience that carries her to old age.

Carol Baldwin said...

Thanks for the comment! Please make sure you leave your name and email address, Unknown!

Young Authors Program said...

Would love to see more PBs like this on Native Americans. Thanks for sharing. Can't wait to read it!

Gail Cartee said...

Carol, I think this is a very important book. My Cherokee people almost lost their language here in the east because of schools where they could only speak English. Thankfully now our language is spoken and written throughout the Qualla area.

Rosi said...

This sounds like a lovely book. Thanks for telling me about it. I will look for it, but I will pass on the giveaway.

Carol Baldwin said...

Thanks Dorothy and Gail for your comments. From what I can tell, there are more and more books written to address these events. Gail, I didn't know you had Cherokee heritage. how interesting!

sheri levy said...

Hi Carol, I enjoyed reading about maintaining native languages and cultures. A great book for new conversations.

Clara Gillow Clark said...

What a beautifully evocative and moving story, Carol. Please include my name in the #giveaway.

Diana said...

"Unknown" is Diana, an elementary school library technician and I have used this book with my classes this year. diana.richardson@ncdsb.com

Melissa Henderson said...

Thank you for sharing about this book. Very special and very important.

Becky Scharnhorst said...

This sounds like such a powerful and important book. I’m looking forward to reading it.

Connie Porter Saunders said...

No unusual ethnicity but I have many stories I want to share with my granddaughter! Sounds like a very rewarding book to share.
Thank you & Blessings!

Carol Baldwin said...

thanks Connie, Becky, Melissa, Diane, and Clara. Diane--I'n glad you identified yourself and that you have been using the book!

Danielle H. said...

I love lyrical picture books like this one that also feature a new culture for me to learn more about--it opens my mind and helps me be more compassionate.

Carol Baldwin said...

Agreed, Danielle! You're in.

Theresa Milstein said...

I didn't learn about the boarding schools until 5 years ago. It's so important this information be spread widely.

Carol Baldwin said...

Agreed, Theresa. Thanks for leaving a comment.

Cat Michaels said...

Brilliant way to introduce children to and help them understand such a sad time in our history, Carol. I knew about the clothes and language but haircutting and weaving blades of grass knocks me for a loop. (Just commenting on your post. no need to enter in GA)

Carol Baldwin said...

I know, the blades of grass got me too.

Carol Baldwin said...

Thanks, Sheri, Cat, and Rosi for your comments.

Carrie said...

Looks like a great addition to our library.

Sarah's Book Reflections said...

It is so important for us to remember and spread the stories and memories of Native American people and cultures. They are so woven into the culture of our country and are full of such wisdom. Thanks for sharing, Carol. No need to put me on the list unless you want me to post a review.

Carol Baldwin said...

Thanks for your comment, Sarah. Glad it “took” !

Vee Browne-Yellowhair said...

Hello, Ya'at'eeh:
I'm currently writing a novella in first person's voice. I'm searching for an agent and a publishing House who would be interested in YA novella regarding a memoir Boarding School experience and foster home.
My name is Vee F. Browne-Yellowhair. See www.veebrowne-yellowhair.studio
contact: vfbrowne@hotmail.com
I'm with SCBWI.org Northern Arizona, I'm in a Writers Boot Camp with the Carolina SCBWI.
Re: When we Were Alone;
Several of us went to both the Boarding School and Foster Homes lieu of Christians Homes. We cannot afford to be forgotten, education is a gem, it's a matter of where you sleep, eat, and a roof over thy head away from Indigenous home.
Vee

Carol Baldwin said...

Thanks, See, for commenting. I hope you find an agent and a publishing house. Let me know when you do! Carol cbaldwin6@me.com

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