I AM NOT A NUMBER
1. What inspired you to write your book?
Listening to the stories of my family and community history led me to write I Am Not a Number. My granny told me her story when I was a teenager at a time when I felt that she wanted to share her truth. I held onto her story for many years, waiting for the right time to share it. While I was working in the field of Indigenous education, I found there weren’t any picture books that focused on the Residential School System through the lens of an Indigenous family. So I wanted to reach out to young people through literature to ensure they hear the true stories about the legacy of forced assimilation, where Indigenous children were taken from their families/home communities and sent to residential schools (known as boarding schools in the United States). In addition, I also wanted to use literature as a means to encourage educators to begin to facilitate deep, meaningful conversations, with students and each other, about the policies that have impacted Indigenous peoples.
2. What is it about?
I Am Not a Number is about my granny’s experience being taken from her First Nation’s community at a young age to live in a residential school in the late 1920’s. An Indian Agent arrived at my granny’s front door and informed her father, who was also Chief of the community, that any child older than 6 years of age will be taken north. The story documents my granny’s time spent attending the residential school as she tries to hold on to the memories of who she is and where she came from, despite the efforts of the people who worked at the institution to shame and humiliate her. In my granny’s case, she returned home for the summer where she made a plan with her parents that she and her brothers would not be taken away again. If the plan failed, the family risked punishment - a fine or jail.
3. What do you think will be the everlasting thoughts for the readers who finish your book?
Through this book, I hope that readers will reflect on how assimilation policies and residential/boarding school systems have deeply impacted the everyday lives of Indigenous children and their families in several countries around the world, including Canada, the United States, and Australia. I also hope that people who read this book will go one step further and engage in conversations about important topics such as assimilation, oppression, truth, justice, in addition to what is needed for reconciliation today.
4. What advice do you have for writers?
This was my first piece of children’s literature, so my advice for anyone who wants to write about truth, justice, and community memories is relatively straightforward:
● Have confidence in your abilities. Start by exploring a topic that you know and care about.
● Be honest and authentic. Prepare to gather information to ensure the authenticity of the story through an accurate portrayal of the people, place, time period, experiences, language, and setting.
● Be purposeful, thoughtful, and intentional. Take the time to identify what is the intended impact of the story. Writers need to continually ask themselves, "How will the readers be influenced by the characters, language, and overall messaging?” “How will the reader's view of their own world be expanded?”.
● Be authentic. Since I Am Not a Number is a children's picture book, it was important that it include authentic imagery. A relative of mine, Les Couchi, had restored a series of old family photos. The old photos helped to inform decisions when communicating with the illustrator, Gillian Newland about the hairstyles, what items to include in my great-grandfather's shop, etc. One of the old photos is included in the book and shows my granny and her siblings outside their house.
● Identify your responsibilities. Sometimes writers from diverse backgrounds have a greater responsibility that includes not just writing the story, but also educating others and transmitting knowledge about cultural, social, political, or economic issues buried within the story.
● Be patient and anticipate a lengthy process that may involve information gathering, several rounds of edits, fact checking, searching for the right illustrator, etc. As such, I regularly turned to my family between edits to get their feedback and continued to listen to their memories. Some of the stories included fond memories of how my great-grandmother often made the best homemade meat pies, baked breads, jams, and preserves.
● Realize that your work is reflection of you. Just because something was done a certain way in the past, does not always make it right today. Be prepared to speak up and ask questions when you feel something does not feel right as you progress throughout the process, especially if you feel it feel it impacts your own ethics and values, or misrepresents a person's/group's racial or cultural identity or nation.
5. Where do you think the book publishing industry is heading?
Indigenous writers will be a driving force in supporting the retention/revitalization of Indigenous knowledge and social justice education through the stories and messages they share. The publishing industry will need to reflect on and make a conscious effort to create spaces for Indigenous authors and evaluate how they engage Indigenous writers, editors, and scholars in order to support the knowledge and experiences they carry with them. It is essential that publishers who engage with Indigenous writers recognize Indigenous expertise and honour the importance of how to respectfully work in collaboration with Indigenous peoples by ensuring their full participation, consultation, and informed consent at all stages of the process.
6. What challenges did you have in writing your book?
One of the main challenges that I had was finding the time to write. While co-writing this book, I was working full-time supporting educators in the field of Indigenous education. I was also in the midst of completing a research study, Fostering Remembrance and Reconciliation Through an Arts-Based Response. And I had also just finished my doctorate in educational leadership. I knew it was a lot to take on, but I felt it was important that my granny’s story be shared.
7. If people can only buy one book this month, why should it be yours?
We talk about calls for truth, justice, and community healing, so it’s important that people begin to start learning about these stories and others like it. We need to find appropriate entry points where we can respectfully listen to and understand the complexities of the histories and how it’s impacted today’s generation so that we can move forward towards change and seek out reconciliation in a meaningful way. Using children’s literature can help young people to understand difficult histories and teach them to consider all viewpoints and become more self-aware. I Am Not a Number is not just about a First Nation’s girl who was taken to live in a residential school, but it is a story that raises consciousness that my granny (Irene) is one of over thousands of Indigenous children impacted by assimilation policies and racialized injustice. Through a book like this, all individuals can learn about this period of history and use it to facilitate open and honest discussions.
For more info, see: http://jennykaydupuis.com/
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Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at email@example.com. He feels more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog 2016 ©. Born and raised in Brooklyn, now resides in Westchester. Named one of the best book marketing blogs by Book Baby
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