Awards: Winner – 2017 Governor Generall’s Literary Awards – Young People’s Literature – Illustration
“When We Were Alone” is the 2017 winner of the Governor General’s Literary Award for Illustration. Cree Metis artist, Julie Flett’s colourful, full-page illustrations feature a primitive, folk-art quality. Facial expressions and colour capture the mood of David Robertson’s story. Brightly coloured illustrations represent the present, while grey, dark, black and white images capture the sombre mood of the past.
Robertson uses a conversation between Nosisim (granddaughter) and Nokum (grandmother) to tell the story. The conversation unfolds as Nosisim asks Nokum questions about her colourful clothing, long braided hair, her Cree language, and the fact that she is always visiting with her brother. Nosisim’s questions trigger Nokum’s memories of her time in a residential school, and the traditional ways that they were denied then, and that she now treasures and shares for all to see. Nokum remembers how she was expected to behave, to dress, and to speak in English. She remembers how lonely she was away from family. And, she remembers the little ways in which she and the other children tried to preserve their culture and remember their families whenever they were alone.
A gentle, reflective, intergenerational story, especially appropriate for the Grade 1-3 audience, to introduce the topic of residential schools and the impact it had on children at that time.
It is also a story of resilience, for the students will easily see how proudly Nokum displays and teaches about her heritage and traditions. A well-recommended addition to your FNMI collection of picture books for the younger audience.