Children’s Book Reviews

Children's Book Reviews: When We Were Alone

Publish June 20, 2017

David A. Robertson’s picture book, When We Were Alone, is a gentle introduction to the topic of residential schools and a quiet celebration of the resilience of the Indigenous children who were forced to attend them. In daily conversation with her grandmother, Nósisim asks questions about her grandmother’s long braid and brightly-coloured clothing. She wonders why Nókom speaks Cree and spends so much time with her brother, the girl’s uncle. Each time, Nókom responds to her granddaughter by describing her own experiences in a residential school where she was not permitted to have any of these things.

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.

When We Were Alone

David A. Robertson
Illustration EN: Julie Flett
Highwater Press, Portage and Main Press
ISBN 13: 978-1-55379-673-2

Roseanne Gauthier
Roseanne Gauthier

Roseanne Gauthier is the Youth Services Librarian for the Prince Edward Island (PEI) Public Library Service, and is PEI's 2017 award-winning 'Champion of Reading'. She has worked in the Faculties of Education at both the University of Prince Edward Island and Mount Saint Vincent University and spent two amazing years as the Children’s Librarian at the Confederation Centre Public Library. She holds an MLIS from Dalhousie University, and an MA from the University of Waterloo. Roseanne lives in Charlottetown, PEI with her husband, their adorable daughter, and two tuxedo cats.

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