National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, observed on September 30th, honours the children who never returned home and Survivors of residential schools, as well as their families and communities (Government of Canada). This day encourages reflection, learning, and action towards reconciliation.
One powerful way to engage in this process is through literature.
Books written by Canadian Indigenous authors provide valuable insights into the diverse cultures, histories, and lived experiences of First Nations, Métis, and Inuit peoples.
In this blog post, we've curated a list of 12 must-read books, divided into two sections – picture books and chapter books – to help foster understanding on National Day for Truth and Reconciliation and Orange Shirt Day.
We've also included free printable "Every Child Matter" and "Chaque Enfant Compte (French)" shirt templates to use with students on Orange Shirt Day. Read to the end of this blog post for the download.
"Shi-shi-etko" by Nicola I. Campbell
This beautifully illustrated picture book follows a young girl's experiences as she prepares to leave for residential school. It's a poignant story that introduces young children to the concept of loss and the importance of holding on to one's culture. (Available on Epic Books)
"When We Were Alone" by David A. Robertson
A story about a grandmother and her granddaughter discussing their shared heritage. This book gently explores the impact of residential schools and the resilience of Indigenous people.
"You Hold Me Up" by Monique Gray Smith
With its simple yet powerful message, this book shows children how small acts of kindness and empathy can make a big difference in building relationships and fostering reconciliation. (Available on Epic Books)
"Phyllis's Orange Shirt" by Phyllis Webstad
This book recounts Phyllis Webstad's childhood experience of having her orange shirt taken away upon entering a residential school. It serves as a powerful reminder of the impact of these schools on Indigenous children.
"With Our Orange Hearts" by Phyllis Webstad
Phyllis Webstad's sequel to "Phyllis's Orange Shirt," this picture book continues the story of Phyllis as she discovers the significance of the orange heart symbol and its role in healing and reconciliation.
"Stolen Words" by Melanie Florence
In this picture book, a young girl named Makwa discovers her grandfather's lost language. The story beautifully captures the importance of preserving Indigenous languages and cultural heritage.
"When I Was Eight" by Christy Jordan-Fenton and Margaret-Olemaun Pokiak-Fenton
In this autobiographical story, Margaret Pokiak-Fenton shares her childhood memories of attending a residential school. This book offers a younger reader edition of the chapter book "Fatty Legs." (Available on Epic Books)
"The Secret Pocket" by Peggy Janicki
The true story of how Indigenous girls at a Canadian residential school sewed secret pockets into their dresses to hide food and survive.
"Fatty Legs" by Christy Jordan-Fenton and Margaret Pokiak-Fenton
This memoir details Margaret Pokiak-Fenton's experiences at a residential school and her determination to learn how to read despite the challenges she faced. (Available on Epic Books)
"A Stranger at Home: A True Story" by Christy Jordan-Fenton and Margaret Pokiak-Fenton
This sequel to "Fatty Legs" continues the story of Margaret Pokiak-Fenton's experiences in a residential school. It explores her return home and the challenges of reintegrating into her family and community. (Available on Epic Books)
"My Name Is Seepeetza" by Shirley Sterling
Written as a diary, this novel offers a glimpse into the life of a young girl named Seepeetza as she attends a residential school. It provides a personal perspective on the challenges she faces and her enduring spirit.
"Speaking Our Truth" by Monique Gray Smith
Monique Gray Smith guides young readers on a journey of truth and reconciliation, providing an age-appropriate exploration of Canada's history, residential schools, and the path toward healing and understanding.
These books foster empathy, understanding, and a commitment to reconciliation. On National Day for Truth and Reconciliation and Orange Shirt Day, these stories serve as important tools to engage in the ongoing journey toward reconciliation in Canada.
Click below to download free printable "Every Child Matter" and "Chaque Enfant Compte (French)" shirt templates to use with students on Orange Shirt Day.
These templates have been crafted for quick prep and straightforward use. However, it is crucial to integrate them with books, videos, and lessons that amplify the voices of Indigenous People.
Please connect with your local school board’s Indigenous Education consultant prior to using these templates or books to ensure they are appropriate for your students and school community.