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When We Were Alone Hardcover – Dec 1 2016

4.9 out of 5 stars 52 ratings

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  • When We Were Alone
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Review

"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."
- National Reading Campaign

(Roseanne Gauthier National Reading Campaign 2017-06-20)

A quiet story…of love and resistance.… Flett’s collage illustrations, with their simplicity and earthy colors, are soulful and gentle….  All readers will connect with how Nókom lives in celebration of colors, her long hair, her language, and, most of all, her family.
- The Horn Book Magazine, a starred review
(The Horn Book Magazine)

"When We Were Alone is rare. It is exquisite and stunning, for the power conveyed by the words Robertson wrote, and for the illustrations that Flett created. I highly recommend it." - Debbie Reese, American Indians in Children's Literature.
(Debbie Reese American Indians in Children's Literature 2016-09-23)

"…Robertson handles a delicate task here admirably well: explaining residential schools, that shameful legacy, and making them understandable to small children. It’s a dark history, and the author doesn’t disguise that, but he wisely focuses the grandmother’s tale on how, season by season, the students use creativity, imagination, and patience to retain their sense of identity. A beautifully quiet, bold strength arises from the continued refrain “When we were alone” and in how the children insisted on being themselves. Flett’s gorgeous, skillful illustrations have a flattened, faux naïve feel to them, like construction paper collage, a style that works perfectly with the story. She nicely contrasts the school’s dull browns and grays with the riotous colors surrounding Nókom and gets much expression from her simple silhouettes.

Spare, poetic, and moving, this Cree heritage story makes a powerful impression." - Kirkus Reviews

(Kirkus Reviews)

"Julie’s Flett’s illustrations are impeccable. The contrast between the colourful and bleak illustrations perfectly match the narrative. The relatively small size of the book makes it perfect for sharing with younger children.

When We Were Alone addresses the topic of residential schools and, just as importantly, aspects of Cree culture and language. There is such gentleness about When We Were Alone that makes it an appropriate book for the even youngest of readers. Simply put, this is a much-needed book.

Highly Recommended."

- Dr. Kristen Ferguson, CM Magazine

(Dr. Kristen Ferguson CM Magazine)

Robertson's text moves between the present and the past, the girl's questions and Nókom's memories, which deepen and intensify the quiet, powerful way she lives out her own culture, day by day, in the present. A beautifully rendered story of resisitance and love, this is made all the more luminous by Flett's art - not just by flashes of fuschsia or scarlet among ochre grasses, but by her precisely observed images of the compact bodies of the uniformed children, bowed beneath the weight of the scissors, or lovingly tending each other's hair. Highly recommended.
- Deirdre Baker, Toronto Star
(Deirdre Baker Toronto Star)

"Done simply, but with devastating clearness this is the story of a woman telling her granddaughter of her time in one of the boarding schools to which Canadian First Nation children were taken. She tells of the brutal methods used to strip them of their own cultures and how they managed to quietly, but firmly resist this. The lovely illustrations further the powerful emotional clout of this important book."
- Monica Edinger, Educating Alice
(Monica Edinger Educating Alice)

Flett's spring palette of warm blues and browns punctuated with splashes of red contrasts the loving moments between grandmother and granddaughter with stark winter whites and grays depicting boarding school life. The repetitive structure creates a predictable narrative; together the illustrations and Robertson's child-centred text make the boarding school experience accessible to a young audience without glossing over its harshness. Verdict: a poignant family story covering a part of history too often missing from library collections.
- Chelsea Couillard-Smith, Hennepin County Library, MN
(Chelsea Couillard-Smith)

Review

?BC ERAC-approved.
(ERAC)

"Beautiful, painful, and shining with truth and dignity." - Richard Van Camp
(Richard Van Camp)

June Reading Picks for Indigenous History Month
(Canadian Children's Book Centre 2019-06-03)

Customer reviews

4.9 out of 5 stars
4.9 out of 5
52 customer ratings
5 star
92%
4 star
8%
3 star 0% (0%) 0%
2 star 0% (0%) 0%
1 star 0% (0%) 0%
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Reviewed in Canada on February 17, 2017
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Reviewed in Canada on December 14, 2017
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Reviewed in Canada on August 15, 2017
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Reviewed in Canada on April 19, 2019
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Reviewed in Canada on September 5, 2017
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Reviewed in Canada on January 23, 2018
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Reviewed in Canada on April 30, 2018
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Reviewed in Canada on August 5, 2019
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Top international reviews

Jo
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful, gentle introduction to the history and legacy of Residential Schooling in Canada
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on August 6, 2019
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5.0 out of 5 stars Good book
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on April 9, 2020
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L. J. Rinaldi
5.0 out of 5 stars Quiet book with a big punch
Reviewed in the United States on September 7, 2018
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Mrs. Heise
5.0 out of 5 stars In a beautifully written way
Reviewed in the United States on March 20, 2018
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fgilmore
5.0 out of 5 stars Simple but profound. Reminds me that it's not beyond me to forget the meaning of dignity.
Reviewed in the United States on December 29, 2017
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Shelby Skye
5.0 out of 5 stars Powerful story of resistance and survival
Reviewed in the United States on January 5, 2019
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JANET C. PIERCE
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Reviewed in the United States on May 30, 2018
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Berry
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful
Reviewed in the United States on January 30, 2020
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Sarvi Sheybany
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful and a good conversation starter.
Reviewed in the United States on March 30, 2017
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1buysfor5
5.0 out of 5 stars Great gift
Reviewed in the United States on December 29, 2018
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Organized Village of Kasaan
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Reviewed in the United States on May 29, 2018
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P. Ripp
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Reviewed in the United States on February 4, 2017
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