Recommended Age, Grade, and Reading Levels
- Age: 6 to 8
- Grade: k to 2
A young girl notices things about her grandmother that make her curious. Why does her grandmother have long, braided hair and beautifully coloured clothing? Why does she speak Cree and spend so much time with her family? As she asks questions, her grandmother shares her experiences in a residential school, when all of these things were taken away.
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. This edition includes the text in Swampy Cree syllabics and Roman orthography, as well as the original English.
About the authors
DAVID A. ROBERTSON is the winner of the Beatrice Mosionier Aboriginal Writer of the Year Award, the John Hirsch Award for Most Promising Manitoba Writer and the TWUC Freedom to Read Award. His books include The Barren Grounds: The Misewa Saga; When We Were Alone (winner of the Governor General’s Award, a finalist for the TD Canadian Children’s Literature Award and a McNally Robinson Best Book for Young People); Will I See? (winner of the Manuela Dias Book Design and Illustration Award, graphic novel category); and the YA novel Strangers (recipient of the Michael Van Rooy Award for Genre Fiction). He is the creator and host of the podcast Kiwew. Through his writings about Canada’s Indigenous peoples, Robertson educates as well as entertains, reflecting Indigenous cultures, histories and communities while illuminating many contemporary issues. David A. Robertson is a member of Norway House Cree Nation. He lives in Winnipeg.
Julie Flett is an award-winning Cree-Metis author, illustrator and artist. She has received many awards, including the 2016 American Indian Library Association Award for Best Picture Book for Little You, written by Richard Van Camp (Orca Books), and the Canadian Christie Harris Illustrated Children’s Literature Award in 2015 for Dolphins SOS, written by Roy Miki (Tradewind Books) and in 2017 for My Heart Fills with Happiness, written by Monique Gray Smith (Orca Books), and was nominated for the Governor General’s Award for Children’s Literature for her book Owls See Clearly at Night (Lii Yiiboo Nayaapiwak lii Swer): A Michif Alphabet (L’alphabet di Michif). Her own Wild Berries (Simply Read Books) was chosen as Canada’s First Nation Communities Read title selection for 2014-2015.
Alderick Leask is a respected Swampy Cree language instructor originally from Sapotaweyak Cree Nation, Manitoba. His experience includes conducting classes in Native Studies, Native Cultures, Native Languages and Canadian History from the Indigenous perspective using Traditional Elders’ Knowledge (TEK) and land-based learning. Mr. Leask places Creation and its bounties as his background in instructing students when learning basic outdoor survival skills. His usage of the functional and descriptive language of Swampy Cree demonstrates its practicality.
- Short-listed, TD Canadian Children's Literature Award
- Winner, Governor General's Literary Awards for Young People's Literature, Illustrated Books
Robertson’s soft rhythmic text and Julie Flett’s simple, yet expressive, illustrations combine to create a beautiful story of strength and resistance. The muted colours used in the pictures of residential school life remind readers of the suffering endured by Indigenous children. The contrast between these pages, and the vibrant greens, reds, and blues of the illustrations depicting residential school students temporarily escaping into nature, is heartbreakingly effective. Robertson never tries to disguise the underlying tragedy of Nókom’s experience, but together he and Flett have crafted a book that is still suitable for younger readers, in spite of the intense subject matter.
When We Were Alone is an incredible work of art and is very highly recommended.
National Reading Campaign
Beautiful, painful, and shining with truth and dignity.
Richard Van Camp
Robertson handles a delicate task here admirably well: explaining residential schools, that shameful legacy, and making them understandable to small children...Spare, poetic, and moving, this Cree heritage story makes a powerful impression.
A quiet story…of love and resistance.… Flett’s collage illustrations, with their simplicity and earthy colors, are soulful and gentle…. All readers will connect with how Nókom lives in celebration of colors, her long hair, her language, and, most of all, her family.
The Horn Book Magazine, starred review
When We Were Alone is rare. It is exquisite and stunning, for the power conveyed by the words Robertson wrote, and for the illustrations that Flett created. I highly recommend it.
American Indians in Children's Literature (AICL)
Among CCBC's Best Books for Kids and Teens list
Canadian Children's Book Centre
Other titles by David A. Robertson
The Theory of Crows
Engaging With Indigenous Narratives and Cultural Expressions In and Beyond the Classroom
The Great Bear
The Misewa Saga, Book Two
Family, Legacy, and Blood Memory
A Residential School Story
On the Trapline
The Barren Grounds
The Misewa Saga, Book One