Logo Title Quebec Reading Connection

I Am Not a Number

Dupuis, Jenny Kay (Author)
Kacer, Kathy (Author)
Newland, Gillian (Illustrator)
Second Story Press 2016. 32 pages
First published: 2016
ISBN: 9781927583944 (hardcover)
Original language: English
Book type: Picture Book

Text Elements:

character, conflict, multimodal, point of view, setting, stance

Awards

Marilyn Baillie Picture Book Award – Finalist – 2017
The Forest of Reading – The Silver Birch Express Award Nominee – 2018

Reading Range

 
Cycle
Elementary
Secondary
 
1
2
3
1
2
ELA
K
1
2
3
4
5
6
1
2
3
4
5
ESL
1
2
3
4
5
6
1
2
3
4
5
ESL Intensive & Enriched
5
6
1
2
3
4
5

Description:

Irene Couchie was only eight years old when the “Indian agent” arrived at her home to take her and her brothers to a residential school. “Never forget home or our ways. Never forget who you are!” Irene’s mother says in their last moments together. Irene soon discovers the horrors of the new school: the cruel nuns, the rules, the deplorable nourishment, the harsh punishments: Irene’s arms are burned after she speaks in her mother tongue. “Everything I knew and loved about who I was and where I had come from was slowly being taken away.”

The text is straightforward, in the voice of an eight-year-old girl, but the descriptions are detailed, allowing the reader to truly grasp the depth of her fear and loneliness.

Realistic watercolour illustrations show expressions of heartbreak and desolation on the children’s faces. Depictions of the school are limited to black, white and faded browns. Colour returns when Irene and her brothers go home for the summer, with leaves and nature and love and good food.

When her parents learn about the abuses at the school, they decide to hide the children so they won’t have to return. Based on a true story, Irene and her brothers never returned to the school, but as the last pages explain, Irene was only one of approximately 150,000 Canadian children removed from their homes and sent to residential schools.

  •  

    Read the information about the residential school system and the afterword at the back. Share your thoughts, opinions and questions.

  •  

    Discuss the characters’ facial expressions. What can you infer about how they are feeling based on the text and illustrations?

  •  

    Irene’s parents took a big risk by hiding their children from the Indian agent. What consequences might there have been for children who lived at residential schools even longer?

  •  

    Irene was not allowed to send or receive letters at the school. Imagine what she, her brothers or parents might have written to each other had they been allowed to correspond.

  •  

    The text incorporates elements of biography and narrative. Read the illustrations and discuss the codes of visual texts (i.e. use of line, colour, layout, subject, point of view). Review the information on the residential school system and the author’s afterword before or after reading the text.

  •  

    In small groups, discuss the events, ideas and issues that stand out. Make connections to other texts.

  •  

    Use this as an anchor text for an inquiry into the residential school system and the Truth and Reconciliation movement. Research an issue of social and political importance, and collect information that answers the inquiry question. Share your results.

  •  

    Explore the cover and discuss what you think the story is about.

  •  

    Brainstorm what you know about First Nations children in residential schools. Do you have any questions? Use a group KWL chart to note the information and revise it after the read-aloud.

  •  

    Compare life in the residential school, as described in the book, to life in your school today. Use a graphic organizer to show your findings.

  •  

    Read companion books on the topic of residential schools. Discuss how First Nations children and citizens are (were) portrayed and treated. Learn about the Truth and Reconciliation movement. How does this book, and others, help you understand the situation better?

  •  

    Write a journal entry explaining how your knowledge and opinion of this situation has evolved.

  •  

    What might it feel like to be torn away from your home and referred to as a number instead of by your name? Do a think-pair-share.

  •  

    While reading, each time you come across something discriminatory, pause to contemplate, then express your thoughts in your journal.

  •  

    Unlike Mary Ann and her brothers, some students tried to escape from the residential school. Research what happened to some of these children. Be inspired by them to create an illustrated picture book about their story.

  • To adopt effective work methods
  • To construct his/her identity
  • To exercise critical judgment
  • To use information
  • Citizenship and Community Life
  • Ethics and Religious Culture
  • Geography, History and Citizenship
  • Social Sciences