________________ CM . . . . Volume XXIII Number 1. . . .September 9, 2016


I Am Not a Number.

Jenny Kay Dupuis & Kathy Kacer. Illustrated by Gillian Newland.
Toronto, ON: Second Story Press, 2016.
32 pp., hardcover, $18.95.
ISBN 978-1-927583-94-4.

Subject Heading:
Native peoples-Canada-Residential schools-Juvenile fiction.

Grades 3-6 / Ages 8-11.

Review by Gregory Bryan.

*** /4

Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.



“I’m here for the children,” the shadowy giant said, pointing a long finger at me. “You! How old?”

I shrank behind my mother. Here for the children?

“How old?” he repeated.

“Eight.” The whisper floated from my mouth.

The Indian agent marched into our house and approached my father. “You knew I would come, Ernest,” he said, “The children are going with me to the residential school. They are wards of the government, now. They belong to us.”


I Am Not a Number is an evocative new picture book by Second Story Press. The title of the book poignantly reflects the story’s prime conflict—the dehumanizing of the Anishinaabe protagonist, Irene Couchie Dupuis, during her time at a residential school. Dupuis is the grandmother of one of the book’s co-authors. The personal relevance of the subject matter to Jenny Kay Dupuis comes through in the strong text she co-wrote with Kathy Kacer. Their abhorrence of the treatment that children received in residential schools is obvious.

      I Am Not a Number is presented from the first-person perspective of eight-year-old Irene. The title comes from the following exchange between Irene and a nun shortly after Irene’s arrival at her new home:

“My name is Irene Couchie,” I told her...

Sister Mary’s eyes narrowed to slits. “We don’t use names here. All students are known by numbers. You are 759.”

     Other residential school “episodes” contained within the book include Irene being subjected to harsh punishments, being forced to have her hair cut, being forbidden to use her first language, assignment to various chores, and being issued a school uniform. Such content makes this book a useful resource for primary school educators desirous to introduce children to Canada’s residential school history. The final three pages of the book also contain further explanatory text about the story and about residential schools.

      Gillian Newland’s watercolour illustrations feature the use of a drab palette that complements the sombre mood of the written text. Geometric shapes and straight lines lend a “jail-like” feel to the school scenes where there appears often to be the suggestion of prison bars trapping the children in a place where they wish not to be.

      I Am Not a Number is not a book to be enjoyed, but it is one with significant educative potential. I expect primary school teachers and librarians will find much here that they can work with.


Dr. Gregory Bryan specialises in literature for children. He is a member of the Faculty of Education at the University of Manitoba.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.
Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364
Hosted by the University of Manitoba.

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