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When We Were Alone by David Alexander…
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When We Were Alone (edition 2016)

by David Alexander Robertson (Author), Julie Flett (Illustrator)

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18912113,846 (4.12)1
"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 colored 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."--… (more)
Member:MegaKami1995
Title:When We Were Alone
Authors:David Alexander Robertson (Author)
Other authors:Julie Flett (Illustrator)
Info:HighWater Press (2016), 24 pages
Collections:Your library
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When We Were Alone by David A. Robertson

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"In this illustrated book for children ages 4 to 8, a curious girl learns about how her grandmother held on to cultural touchstones when she was a child at a Native American residential school.

The young girl who narrates this book notices one day, while helping her grandmother in the garden, that her Nókom (Cree for “grandmother”) always does certain things. She dons colorful clothes; wears her hair long; speaks in Cree; and spends time with her brother, talking and laughing. But why? The book explains in the rhythm of a poem or song, repeating the structure of question and answer. For example, the girl asks, “Nókom, why do you wear so many colours?” and the grandmother replies, “Well, Nósisim…” and begins her story. She explains that as a girl, she once liked to wear many colors, but at her far-away school, all the children were dressed the same. Why? “ ‘They didn’t like that we wore such beautiful colours,’ Nókom said. ‘They wanted us to look like everybody else.’ ” But in autumn, the girls would pile kaleidoscopic fallen leaves on themselves and found happiness that way. Now, Nókom always wears the most beautiful hues. Similar explanations follow: the school cut the girls’ hair, wouldn’t let them speak Cree, and separated family members, all to enforce conformity. Today, though, Nókom can flaunt her culture openly. Robertson (The Chief: Mistahimaskwa, 2016, etc.) handles a delicate task here admirably well: explaining residential schools, that shameful legacy, and making them understandable to small children. It’s a dark history, and the author doesn’t disguise that, but he wisely focuses the grandmother’s tale on how, season by season, the students use creativity, imagination, and patience to retain their sense of identity. A beautifully quiet, bold strength arises from the continued refrain “When we were alone” and in how the children insisted on being themselves. Flett’s (We Sang You Home, 2016, etc.) gorgeous, skillful illustrations have a flattened, faux naïve feel to them, like construction paper collage, a style that works perfectly with the story. She nicely contrasts the school’s dull browns and grays with the riotous colors surrounding Nókom and gets much expression from her simple silhouettes.

Spare, poetic, and moving, this Cree heritage story makes a powerful impression." Kirkus Reviews
  CDJLibrary | Apr 30, 2021 |
A Cree woman tells her granddaughter about her experiences at a residential school. In the process, she shares the importance of holding on to that which is most important during times of crisis. Beautiful art accompanies this story of heritage and resilience. Suitable for children ages 4 to 8. ( )
  Zoes_Human | Sep 10, 2020 |
Adored this, adored Robertson's writing and Julie Flett's artwork.

So delicate, so compassionate and such a lovely work.

I'll include this in a video on my YouTube channel very soon. ( )
  lydia1879 | Feb 1, 2020 |
This is a very slight picture book about the indigenous residential school experience. As she works in the garden, a little girl asks her grandmother about her clothing, her hair, her language, and her regular visits with her brother (the little girl’s great uncle). What has made her grandmother the way she is? The grandmother explains in simple language the deprivations of residential school life: the depressing, colourless uniforms the children were made to wear, the cutting of the beautiful long hair they had been so proud of, the fact that they were forbidden to speak Cree, and were not permitted to associate with their own family members.The only place the children could get around these limitations was outdoors. Nature provided them with colourful leaves to place over themselves, grass that could be braided like hair, and space away from teachers to whisper their language and maybe hold a sibling’s hand.

Julie Flett’s illustrations are simple and serviceable, but they’re no great favourites of mine. I find this a satisfactory text, but I much prefer two other recent similarly themed picture books that have a lot more heart and more sophisticated artwork: Jenny Kay Dupuis’s I Am Not a Number and Melanie Florence’s Stolen Words. I’d choose either of those over this one. ( )
  fountainoverflows | Aug 30, 2019 |
A simply told but powerful account of what many First Nations tribes experienced. By just reporting on not being able to speak your native tongue, or keep your hair long, or wear colorful clothes, children will understand how wrong this is. ( )
  lisaladdvt | Jul 17, 2019 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
David A. Robertsonprimary authorall editionscalculated
Flett, JulieIllustratorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
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"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 colored 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."--

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