Orange Shirt Day is September 30

By Robin Gallagher

Talking to children about Orange Shirt Day and about the history of residential schools in Canada is difficult but extremely important. The Ottawa Public Library has many titles to help you approach this topic with your children, no matter their age. As always with difficult topics, please pre-read titles before sharing them with your children. Every child is different, and you know your child best.

When We Were Alone
by David Robertson

Written for younger children, this is a very gentle introduction to a very difficult topic. Beautifully illustrated, the story is framed around a young girl asking her grandmother a series of questions. The grandmother’s answers are a gentle and age-appropriate explanation.

The Orange Shirt Story
by Phyllis Webstad

There is, of course, The Orange Shirt Story or its adaptation for younger audiences, Phyllis’s Orange Shirt. This is the story that inspired Orange Shirt Day, and so it provides a clear way to open up a conversation with your child.

Stolen Words
by Melanie Florence

This is another beautiful story that introduces the idea of residential schools, specifically focusing on the loss of language. As with When We Were Alone, this story centres on an intergenerational conversation about cultural loss.

When I Was Eight
by Christy Jordan-Fenton and Margaret Pokiak-Fenton

This book is about resistance. This is the true story of Margaret Pokiak-Fenton and her experience at residential school. Without minimizing the fear or the mistreatment that she suffered, this book celebrates Margaret’s indomitable spirit, persistence and courage as she stood up to the nuns who tried to break her spirit.

Swift Fox All Along
by Rebecca Thomas

This story deals with the legacy of residential schools and the ensuing loss of identity threading through generations. Swift Fox, who has always lived in the city, goes with her father to “learn how to be Mi’kmaq,” although she is not sure she will ever fully feel like she belongs. This book is a combination of an exploration of culture loss and an introduction to an Indigenous culture in Canada today, as we follow Swift Fox’s introduction to her Mi’kmaq family and culture.

These Are My Words
by Ruby Slipperjack

The Dear Canada series covers major events in Canadian history from a child’s perspective in the form of diary entries. This book, by Indigenous writer Ruby Slipperjack, covers a year in the life of Violet Pesheens, an Anishinaabe girl sent to residential school. This title is intended for middle-grade readers.

In addition to the titles mentioned above, the OPL has a web page to guide you to content by Indigenous authors. We also have new collections of materials written in Indigenous languages as well as a ton of books with modern stories that center on Indigenous voices and celebrate the variety and vibrancy of Indigenous experiences and traditions today. Notable titles in this vein include This Is How I Know by Brittany Luby, Treaty Words by Aimée Craft, I Sang You Down from the Stars by Tasha Spillett-Sumner and What’s My Superpower? by Aviaq Johnston.

Robin Gallagher is a librarian at the Sunnyside Branch of the Ottawa Public Library, where she works primarily with children and teens. When she is not working, you can find her reading (to herself or to her kids), walking her dog (while maintaining social distance) or sewing (face masks).

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