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When we were alone
2016
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Summary
When a young girl helps tend to her grandmother's garden, she begins to notice things that make her curious. Why does her grandmother have long, braided hair and beautifully coloured clothing? Why does she speak another language and spend so much time with her family? As she asks her grandmother about these things, she is told about life in a residential school a long time ago, where all of these things were taken away. When We Were Alone is a story about a difficult time in history, and, ultimately, one of empowerment and strength.

When We Were Alone won the 2017 Governor General's Literary Award in the Young People's Literature (Illustrated Books) category, and was nominated for the TD Canadian's Children's Literature Award.
Trade Reviews
School Library Journal Review
K-Gr 3-A young girl learns about family and heritage in this gentle picture book about the legacy of Native American boarding schools. Working in the garden with her grandmother, a pigtailed girl asks why her "Nókom" wears colorful clothing and her hair in a long braid. Her grandmother explains that as a child, she was sent far away from her family to a school where she was forced to wear plain clothing and chop off her hair. "They wanted us to be like everyone else," she explains. But when they were alone, the children would cover themselves in the fall leaves and braid grasses into their hair in order to recapture the identities they left behind. As her grandmother speaks Cree to a passing bird and sits laughing with her brother, she shares how it feels to be forbidden to speak the only language you know and how stolen moments with a sibling can feel like a lifeline to home. "Now, I am always with my family," the grandmother says. Flett's spring palette of warm blues and browns punctuated with splashes of red contrasts the loving moments between grandmother and granddaughter with stark winter whites and grays depicting boarding school life. The repetitive structure creates a predictable narrative; together the illustrations and Robertson's child-centered text make the boarding school experience accessible to a young audience without glossing over its harshness. VERDICT A poignant family story covering a part of history too often missing from library collections. A first purchase.-Chelsea Couillard-Smith, Hennepin County Library, MN © Copyright 2017. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Booklist Review
*Starred Review* A young girl helping her grandmother in the garden asks Nókum a series of questions: Why do you wear so many colors? Why do you wear your hair so long? Why do you speak in Cree? Why do you and Nókomis always spend time together? The answers relate to the years Nókum spent in residential school as a child, where she was instructed to wear a drab uniform, compelled to cut her hair short, forced to speak only English, and forbidden from spending time with family. As an adult, she remembers these injustices, but she chooses to respond in positive ways, enjoying beautiful colors, wearing her hair long, speaking her native language, and spending time with her brother. Robertson's succinct yet lyrical prose evokes the not-so-distant past when indigenous Canadian (and American) children were removed from their families and placed in boarding schools whose main goal was to eradicate their Native cultural ways. Flett's mixed-media collage artwork echoes Robertson's forthright text as she alternates between colorful contemporary spreads and more muted residential school scenes. Each spread is compelling in its own way, offering remarkable depictions of resilience and the strong emotional ties within this family. An empowering and important story.--Weisman, Kay Copyright 2017 Booklist
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