Recommended Age, Grade, and Reading Levels
- Age: 7 to 11
- Grade: 3 to 6
- Reading age: 7 to 11
When eight-year-old Irene is removed from her First Nations family to live in a residential school she is confused, frightened, and terribly homesick. She tries to remember who she is and where she came from, despite the efforts of the nuns who are in charge at the school and who tell her that she is not to use her own name but instead use the number they have assigned to her. When she goes home for summer holidays, Irene's parents decide never to send her and her brothers away again. But where will they hide? And what will happen when her parents disobey the law? Based on the life of co-author Jenny Kay Dupuis’ grandmother, I Am Not a Number is a hugely necessary book that brings a terrible part of Canada’s history to light in a way that children can learn from and relate to.
About the authors
Jenny Kay Dupuis (she/her/hers) is a sought-after public speaker, best-selling author, educator, and accomplished Woodland pop artist whose focus is raising awareness about Indigenous realities. She is well-known for her exceptional knowledge of Indigenous care theories, leadership models, and engagement frameworks, and has shared this expertise to support corporations, non-governmental organizations, school districts, and post-secondary institutions around the world in shifting their organizational practices.
As co-author of the award-winning children’s book I Am Not a Number, Jenny Kay shared her granny’s experiences at a residential school in Canada. Her latest book for children, Heart Berry Bling, brings together some of her own experiences and those of many others to highlight how the rights of thousands of First Nations women were taken by the Indian Act.
A certified teacher and learning strategist, Jenny Kay holds her Bachelor of Arts in History and Visual Arts, Master of Education in Special Education, and Doctorate in Educational Leadership. Jenny Kay is a member of Nipissing First Nation and lives in Toronto, Ontario. Follow her on social media @jennykaydupuis.
Kathy Kacer est une auteure primée qui a écrit de nombreux livres sur l'holocauste pour les jeunes lecteurs, dont The Magician of Auschwitz, L'histoire d'Edith, Le journal de Sara et Les espions de la nuit. Elle s'estime honorée de contribuer à faire connaître l'histoire familiale de Jenny Kay Dupuis. Kathy vit avec sa famille à Toronto.
Kathy Kacer has won many awards for her writing, including the American Jewish Library Association Award. In 1999, she wrote the first book in Second Story's Holocaust Remembrance Series, The Secret of Gabi's Dresser. Since then, she's penned four other books in the series. Kacer now writes about the Holocaust for young readers and travels the country speaking about it. Kacer lives in Toronto, Ontario, with her family.
Gillian Newland est une artiste qui travaille principalement à l'aquarelle, à l'encre et au crayon. Elle trouve son inspiration en dessinant à l'extérieur de son studio. On la voit parfois dans un café, en train de faire des croquis des autres clients. Elle a illustré The Magician of Auschwitz et de nombreux autres livres. Gillian vit à Toronto.
Gillian Newland is an artist who lives and works in Toronto. In addition to illustrating a number of picture books, her artwork can be seen on several young adult novels and in magazines. She has won the Ruth Schwartz Award and been nominated for the Lane Anderson Award.
- Winner, Red Cedar Award for Information Book
- Short-listed, Silver Birch Express Award
- Winner, Hackmatack Award
- Short-listed, Rocky Mountain Book Award
- Winner, Diamond Willow Award
- Commended, Canadian Children's Book Centre's Best Books for Kids & Teens - Spring 2017
- Short-listed, Information Book Award
- Commended, Bank Street College of Education's Best Children's Books of the Year
- Commended, CCBC Choices - Best Books of the Year
- Short-listed, Marilyn Baillie Picture Book Award
- Commended, CBC Books' Best Books of the Year
- Commended, Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC) Notable Children's Books
- Commended, American Indians in Children's Literature Best Books of the Year
- Commended, Ontario Library Association's Best Bets - Junior Nonfiction
July 11, 2016
Kacer (The Magician of Auschwitz, also illustrated by Newland) and educator Dupuis unflinchingly recount a story from the childhood of Dupuis’s grandmother, one of some 150,000 Canadian First Nations children relocated to residential schools as part of an assimilation policy. Irene Couchie and two brothers were taken from their family in 1928 to attend a Catholic boarding school. She was assigned a number in lieu of her name, her long hair was unceremoniously cut, and a nun physically abused her for speaking her native language (“even though the red sores had now turned pink, the memory of the punishment had not faded one bit”). The story never shies from the harsh treatment Irene endured, peaking dramatically when the children hide from the agent coming to collect them for a second school year. They were among the lucky ones whose parents took a stand and refused to return them. Most spreads feature a full page of first-person narrative opposite Newland’s somber watercolors. An afterword discusses Canada’s history with the residential school program (and recent government apologies for it) and provides additional details about her grandmother’s life. Ages 7–11.
To any one looking for a book to teach children about the history of residential schools 'I Am Not A Number' is without hesitation a very powerful and historical teaching tool.
Endless cross-curricular connections can be made using this story. But the most powerful aspect of this book is that it will open a dialogue, one that Justice Murray Sinclair spoke of as head of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, a dialogue that needs to take place for reconciliation to happen.
[A] powerful teaching tool that brings a terrible part of Canada’s history to light in a way that children can learn from and relate to. It is written in simple language and told in a way that will stimulate conversations about residential schools and the traumatic effects they have had on generations of First Nation families and communities. ... beautifully illustrated by Gillian Newland. She captures the somber mood of the school, the anguish of the children, the severity of the nuns and the desperation of the family. Students can easily empathize with Irene and her brothers as well as their parents as they try to imagine how they would feel or act in a similar situation.
Alberta Native News
Residential and boarding school stories are hard to read, but they're vitally important... books like I Am Not a Number should be taught in schools in Canada, and the U.S., too.
American Indians in Children's Literature
Of special note is the author’s ability to portray the devastating environment that Irene lived in, in a heartfelt and authentic way that is very much appropriate for the intended age... Few stories exist about the residential school system that are aimed at a younger age group, and this one is an absolute must for classrooms and libraries.
Gillian Newland’s illustrations are a highly realistic, very evocative accompaniment to [the] text. They set the tone and establish the mood of the story.... [The book] 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.
Deakin Review of Children's Literature
A moving glimpse into a not-very-long-past injustice.
It’s important to teach children about true Canadian history, but it’s not easy to talk about it in a way that children will understand. I Am Not a Number is perfect to get the conversation about residential schools started with your children. It opens the door for them to ask questions about the subject and the story is relatable in a way they can follow.
Residential School Magazine
The personal relevance of the subject matter to Jenny Kay Dupuis comes through in the strong text she co-wrote with Kathy Kacer.... primary school teachers and librarians will find much here that they can work with.
CM: Canadian Review of Materials
The story was captivatingly told.... I can’t stress the importance of having these books in your library collection enough. They reflect accurately the experiences of many Native families and the history of many Native peoples (not just the ones in Canada). They can start conversations, albeit hard ones for us white teachers and parents, around the deep seated racism in our country and how that has played out over the years. They can also ensure that children are being exposed to this history.
At Home Librarian Blog
This well done, empathetic historical book is highly recommended for all collections. (Starred Review)
With tenacious resolve and empathetic storytelling, [Jenny Kay Dupuis, Kathy Kacer, and Gillian Newland] reminds us – perhaps more urgently than ever – that 'there is still much work to be done.'
Book Dragon Blog
Gillian Newland's sombre illustrations, done with a muted palette of greys, greens and browns, beautifully capture the written words.... This book is a moving look into an injustice that continues to have ramifications for First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples.
Canadian Children's Book News
I Am Not a NumberThis important picture book helps students understand Reconciliation and the plight of Residential Schools, and will support curriculum that explores First Nations, Métis, and Inuit culture. Irene’s parents have no choice but to send their children far from home, but the words “Never forget who you are” serve as an important precept for Indigenous survival, courage, and pride. Additional information about Residential Schools appears at the end of the book, and an afterword by Dr. Jenny Kay Dupuis provides clear contextual information.
Source: Association of Canadian Publishers. Diversity Collection Selection 2017.