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list price: $21.95
edition:Hardcover
also available: eBook
category: Children's Fiction
published: Dec 2016
ISBN:9781553796732
publisher: Portage & Main Press
imprint: HighWater Press

When We Were Alone

by David A. Robertson, illustrated by Julie Flett

tagged: native canadian, multigenerational, prejudice & racism, post-confederation (1867-)
Description

Winner of the 2017 Governor General's Literary Award!

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 the girl asks questions, her grandmother shares her experiences in a residential school, when all of these things were taken away.

Also available in a bilingual Swampy Cree/English edition. Download the free teacher guide on the Portage & Main Press website.

About the Authors

David A. Robertson (he/him/his) is the 2021 recipient of the Writer’s Union of Canada’s Freedom to Read Award. He is the author of more than 25 books for young readers including When We Were Alone, which won a Governor General’s Literary Award and was a finalist for the TD Canadian Children’s Literature Award. David’s most recent works include the graphic novel Breakdown (The Reckoner Rises, Vol. 1), middle grade novel The Barren Grounds, children’s book On the Trapline, and memoir Black Water: Family, Legacy, and Blood Memory. He is also the writer and host of the podcast Kíwew, which won the 2021 RTDNA Prairie Region Award for Best Podcast.

A sought-after speaker and educator, David is a member of Norway House Cree Nation. He lives in Winnipeg.


Julie Flett studied fine arts at Concordia University in Montreal and Emily Carr University of Art + Design in Vancouver. She won the Governor General’s Award for Children’s Literature for her work on When We Were Alone by David Robertson, and her book Birdsong won the TD Canadian Children’s Literature Award and was shortlisted for the Governor General’s Award. She is the three-time recipient of the Christie Harris Illustrated Children’s Literature Award for Owls See Clearly at Night: A Michif Alphabet, Dolphin SOS and My Heart Fills With Happiness. Julie is Cree and Métis and lives in Vancouver.

Recommended Age, Grade, and Reading Levels
Age:
6 to 8
Grade:
1 to 3
Awards
  • Runner-up, TD Canadian Children's Literature Award
  • Winner, McNally Robinson Best Book for Young People Award/Younger Category
  • Winner, Governor General's Literary Awards
Editorial Reviews

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

Robertson's text moves between the present and the past, the girl's questions and Nókom's memories, which deepen and intensify the quiet, powerful way she lives out her own culture, day by day, in the present. A beautifully rendered story of resisitance and love, this is made all the more luminous by Flett's art - not just by flashes of fuschsia or scarlet among ochre grasses, but by her precisely observed images of the compact bodies of the uniformed children, bowed beneath the weight of the scissors, or lovingly tending each other's hair. Highly recommended.

— Toronto Star

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

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

…Robertson handles a delicate task here admirably well: explaining residential schools, that shameful legacy, and making them understandable to small children. It’s a dark history, and the author doesn’t disguise that, but he wisely focuses the grandmother’s tale on how, season by season, the students use creativity, imagination, and patience to retain their sense of identity. A beautifully quiet, bold strength arises from the continued refrain “When we were alone” and in how the children insisted on being themselves. Flett’s gorgeous, skillful illustrations have a flattened, faux naïve feel to them, like construction paper collage, a style that works perfectly with the story. She nicely contrasts the school’s dull browns and grays with the riotous colors surrounding Nókom and gets much expression from her simple silhouettes.

Spare, poetic, and moving, this Cree heritage story makes a powerful impression.

— Kirkus Reviews

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