• Sarah Hudson

Residential School Must Reads

The number of unmarked graves found at residential school sites keeps rising. Those numbers are expected to go into the thousands. The knowledge of these lost children have always been recognized by Indigenous people, but now with technology, it is an undeniable fact. The question now becomes, as educators, what do we do with this knowledge?


Know the Stories

Here is a compiled list of just a few of the many picture books and novels that tell the stories of these children who were affected and suffered at the hands of those in charge at the residential schools. Also included, are resource suggestions to support the books.


(For a more detailed account of many of these stories, visit my blog post, "The Difficult Truth - Excellent Books on Reconciliation for all Ages" )


An excellent short film has been created based on the story, Shin-chi’s Canoe, written by Nicola I. Campbell. Appropriate for younger children, this film and story gently introduces the subject of residential schools and describes the loss of family, culture, language, and ancestral teachings.






The prequel to Shin-chi's Canoe is

Shi-shi-etko. A touching story about a little girl's preparation before leaving her family to go to residential school.


"This gentle story of a child on the verge of great loss was selected as the Aboriginal Children’s Book of the Year." ~ Strong Nations.





The Train is an intergenerational story of healing from trauma. Geared for children aged 6-12, this story depicts how some children were taken from their families and how the effects of their loss lives on for generations.









When We Were Alone, written by the award winning author, David A. Robertson and illustrated by the award winning artist, Julie Flett, is an heartfelt book that gently describes life in residential school and how children coped with the trauma.








On the Side of the Angels, is story about little boy growing up in an Inuit community and his experience at a residential school. The interesting aspect about this story is that the author spends time explaining many Inuit beliefs and social practices. This story is perfect for grades 4-9.






Fatty Legs, is a corner stone for Canadian students' understanding of residential schools. It is an absolute must-read. Sadly, as generations of children were take from their families to attend residential schools, moving forward, generations of Canadian children should become familiar with the stories.







A Stranger at Home, is the sequel to Fatty Legs. This story effectively describes the loss the main character experiences after returning home from residential school.


"This memoir, detailing a woeful piece of Canadian history and demonstrating Margaret's strength of character, compassion, courage and her willingness to sacrifice herself for her family's sake, gives the reader a lot to ponder. Highly recommended." — Shelbey Krahn, Canadian Materials, February 2012


When I Was Eight, is the picture book version of Fatty Legs. It is perfectly geared for primary school children.


"Pokiak-Fenton's true story of her experiences at residential school, was originally told in Fatty Legs.... When I Was Eight is an even more powerful read due to its emphasis on concise, affective text coupled with Gabrielle Grimard's quietly unpretentious artwork." — Canlit for Little Canadians




Not My Girl is the picture book version illustrated by Gabrielle Grimard. It was perfectly created to tell the story for younger children.


“A great way to introduce important questions about identity and ethics to young readers and is, additionally, a pleasure for the eyes. ”

- Montreal Review of Books






The Boy Who Walked Backwards is a true story about a clever boy, determined not to return to residential school, tricked the government men who came to retrieve him.










Kookum's Red Shoes tells the story of a little girl taken to residential school and the loss she experiences when she returns home.

This story runs parallel with the famous Wizard of Oz with respect to red shoes and the fact that there is no place like home. The end of the story reveals Kookum as an adult and it explains how it took a long time for her to feel comfortable back at the reserve.





STEALING INDIANS is fictional story based on interviews with survivors of residential schools. It is set in the United States and while it is fictional, many of the details are recognizable in the similarities in the treatment of the Indigenous children.


"One of our most brilliant writers tells a harsh truth about American history."-Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States





I AM NOT A NUMBER is heart wrenching story about a little girl's traumatic experience at residential school. While the story is told in a picture book format, it is geared for grade 5 to 9.


"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."— Debbie Reese, American Indians in Children's Literature




The award winning author, David A Robertson, tells the story of a young girl who survived a traumatic upbringing to then only be taken into the residential school system. The story is told through a graphic novel format, adding a rich layer of vivid detail for the reader.


"With the 7 Generations series, David Robertson and Scott Henderson burst onto the Canadian graphic novel scene with beautiful storytelling, scenes of brutal honesty, and messages of truth. With Sugar Falls they do it again, narrating a graceful and unforgettable story of resilience and power." - Niigaanwewidam James Sinclair, Assistant Professor, University of Manitoba


Goodbye Buffalo Bay is a sequel to the endearing story, A Long as the Rivers Flow. The two books provide a deeper understanding of the loss experienced when a child is removed their family. Goodbye Buffalo Bay tells the story of a young boy's life a residential school and beyond. Suitable for grades 5 through 10.

"Goodbye Buffalo Bay explores the themes of self-discovery, the importance of friendship, the difference between anger and assertiveness and the realization of youthful dreams." ~ Strong Nations


No Time to Say Goodbye is one of my favourite novels and also happens to be about a residential school. It is a fictional account of five children, based on the recollections of a number of Tsartlip First Nations people. The characters are endearing and the story includes excitement, sadness, heartfelt moments, and a times, a sense triumph. This is the perfect novel study for grades 4 through 9.




Stolen Words, written by Melanie Florence and illustrated by Gabrielle Gimard, beautifully introduces to young children, the subject of residential schools the Intergenerational effects it has had on Indigenous people. Perfect for primary grades.

"Stolen Words would be an asset to any home or school library. It is a very powerful tool to educate both Indigenous and non-indigenous readers about the long lasting effects of the residential school system." — Anishinabek News

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