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When We Were Alone

4.46  ·  Rating details ·  1,517 ratings  ·  293 reviews
When a young girl helps tend to her grandmother's garden, she begins to notice things that make her curious. Why does her grandmother have long braided hair and beautifully colored clothing? Why does she speak another language and spend so much time with her family? As she asks her grandmother about these things, she is told about life in a residential school a long time a ...more
Hardcover, 32 pages
Published December 1st 2016 by HighWater Press
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Average rating 4.46  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,517 ratings  ·  293 reviews

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Oct 07, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: arc, picture-books
The first thing I noticed upon starting When We Were Alone were the gorgeous illustrations that were detailed in all the right places. It was eye-bending in its beauty.

This picture book begins with a young girl helping out in her grandmother's garden, when she begins to notice things that make her curious.

Why does her grandmother have long braided hair and beautifully colored clothing?
Why does she speak another language and spend so much time with her family?
As she asks her grandmother abou
Sep 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: children-s
A grandmother passes along her history to her curious granddaughter. It is a beautifully told story of how one culture tried to suppress another through uniformity and how they found ways to keep it alive. The illustrations are exquisite.
David Alexander Robertson's When We Were Alone poignantly begins with a young First Nations girl asking her grandmother, asking her kokom (whom she is helping in the garden) why she wears clothing of so many different colours. And her kokom's, her grandmother's response is that this is her own personal way of reclaiming herself, and being a person with the right to choose, because at school, because at the government residential schools she and so many First Nations children were mandated, were ...more
This is a quiet picture book, that sneaks up on you. There are two levels here, one of a young child asking her grandmother, her kókom, why she does things the way she does. Why does she dress in bright colors, why does she wear a long braid, why does she speak in Cree?

And very simply, her kókom explains about the residential schools where these things were all forbidden.

The residential schools were a horrid part of history, and it is important for children, and adults, to realize that real peop
Mar 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2018
*Received by NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.*

This book was a beautiful and simple children's story about the hardships suffered by native tribes within Canada.
The illustrations were beautiful, the original language of the people were used and it was lovely, quick and poetic.
Cheriee Weichel
Nov 21, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I would have picked up and read this book just because, you know, Julie Flett! I adore her illustrations.
In this narrative, a young girl spends time with her Nokom (grandmother) and wonders why she does the things she does. The girl questions how she dresses, wears her hair, why she speaks Cree, and spends so much time with her brother. We readers learn, along with the girl, that this is how her Nokom celebrates her life in contrast to her experiences in residential school.
I highly recommend t
Mireille Messier
Nov 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A young First Nations' girl asks her grandmother why she does things the way she does - wear her hair long, wear happy colours, hang out with her brother... The answers are as heartbreaking as they are beautiful. An absolute gem of a book about residential schools. I wish this book was read be every child in every school in North America! ...more
Jenna (Falling Letters)
Lovely book, excellent resource.
Canadian Reader
This is a very slight picture book about the indigenous residential school experience. As she works in the garden, a little girl asks her grandmother about her clothing, her hair, her language, and her regular visits with her brother (the little girl’s great uncle). What has made her grandmother the way she is? The grandmother explains in simple language the deprivations of residential school life: the depressing, colourless uniforms the children were made to wear, the cutting of the beautiful l ...more
Monica Edinger
Apr 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing
From my blog review:

I have Debbie Reese to thank for drawing my attention to David A. Robertson and Julie Flett's When We Were Alone published by Portage and Main Press. 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 lo

Jul 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing
When a book makes you cry. This is so sad and beautiful.
Cheryl struggles to catch up
Mar 18, 2018 rated it really liked it
The themes of Stolen Words are very much similar to those of When We Were Alone, but the former is lighter, more hopeful. The latter is also gorgeous and intense, but more detailed and more wistful, almost sad. I recommend both, actually... or at least one of them, to everybody. ...more
Jun 15, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Takes on history of indigenous people being removed from their homes and removed from their culture through the conversation between a grandma and her granddaughter. It is a quiet book of resilience and resistance.

It's a difficult topic to share in a children's book, but it is done beautifully by both David A. Robertson and Julie Flett.
Stephanie Croaning
Jun 22, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: picture-books, 2017
David Alexander Robertson and Julie Flett have come together to create a brilliant and important picture book that introduces to children an important part of First Nation history, which must be understood to put U.S. history in context.

Picture book, First Nation history, fiction
Interest level: Pre-K through grade 3; reading level: 3.6
5 out of 5 stars

Much of the history of First Nation people in North America is never presented in the history books that children encounter in schools. In the lat
Sep 12, 2016 rated it really liked it
The residential schools were a terrible part of Canadian history, and it is important for children, and adults, to learn about this time, what it did to a proud people and what the fallout is still today.

This picture book tells about the experience of one person during the residential school time in very simple terms. A little girl is helping her grandmother in the garden and begins to ask her questions. "Kókom, why do you dress in bright colors, why do you wear a long braid, why do you speak in
Apr 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This is a beautiful, beautiful book, one every teacher should read to their students. This book is a wonderful way to introduce conversations about residential schools. The text will not scare children, but will deliver hard truths.

Abby Johnson
This moving picture book gracefully explains the injustices of the Native American residential schools on a kid-friendly level while still communicating the grief and anguish that they caused.
A beautiful book, fantastic introduction to residential school history without traumatising sensitive children. I always love Julie Flett's work, and this is no exception. All the illustrations accompanying lines about what the kookum had to give up at residential school are sparse, with lots of white space and dull colours, contrasted with all the other vivid, happy illustrations. This is a great example of communicating mood with illustrations and could be incorporated into lesson plans for ar ...more
Kate Puleo Unger
Dec 05, 2016 rated it really liked it
Wow. This book is powerful. A young girl is helping her grandmother garden, and she asks innocent questions about why her grandmother wears such colorful clothes and wears her hair so long. She learns that her grandmother, an Algonquin from northern Canada, was sent to a boarding school where she was forced to wear a uniform, cut her hair short, and speak English instead of Cree. Now she does all of the things that were denied to her when she was young.

When We Were Alone tells an unpleasant bit
Sep 22, 2016 rated it really liked it
A young girl is helping her grandmother in the garden. She asks here why she wears bright colors, and why she wears a braid and why she talks in Cree. With each question her grandmother tells about when she went to school and all the things that they weren't allowed to do like wear bright colors, have long hair and speak their native language. It's a very sweet and at the same time sad book. ...more
KD Grainger-Peixoto
Nov 03, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: e-arc
I recieved this as an ARC from NetGalley and the publisher. The publication date is the end of next month - so a full review will not be posted until then.

However, I can say that this was a beautiful and engrossing read, that has made it onto my must-buy list for my young loved ones.
Nov 30, 2021 rated it it was amazing
A great story that explains the residential school that many indigenous children had to endure all framed in a loving conversation between a grandmother and a grandchild. Beautifully done!!
Polenth Blake
A young girl helps her kókom (grandmother) in the garden. She asks her kókom questions, and the answers go back to the time when her kókom was sent away to school.

This book deals with the history of residential schools for Native American children. The focus is on the attempts to stop the children from practising their culture. They weren't allowed to have long hair or speak Cree at the school. Everything they were not allowed to do was to make them like everyone else (in other words, like white
Sharon Tyler
Dec 09, 2016 rated it it was amazing
When We Were Alone is a picturebook written by David Alexander Robertson and illustrated by Julie Flett. It is currently scheduled for release on December 31 2016. When a young girl helps tend to her grandmother’s garden, she begins to notice things about her grandmother that make her curious. Why does her grandmother have long braided hair and wear beautifully colored clothing? Why does she speak another language and spend so much time with her family? As she asks her grandmother about these th ...more
Oct 20, 2016 rated it really liked it
4.25ish stars.

A worthy historical tale told powerfully through the storytelling medium of the picture book.

Sometimes I think we fear that certain subjects are too sensitive or heavy to expose children to. I believe it's really just a matter of how things are presented. In this story a Cree grandmother sensitively explains the proud traditions she carries out to her curious granddaughter. The little girl's kókom is given a voice as the book relates, without excessive bitterness or accusation, her
Dec 05, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This story absolutely met my expectations! With quiet innocence and inquisitiveness, we learn from a granddaughter's perspective why her grandmother does things the way she does. Her kókom responds with an elegant reverie that resonates and lingers. Like the art, the story is spare and simple, with bright and powerful moments of color that make you go, "Ohhhh." (For those who recall Arsenio Hall's catchphrase, "Things that make you go hmmm..." <-- that's what I'm talking about.) If you are famil ...more
Nov 01, 2017 rated it it was amazing
When We Were Alone has two storylines: present day with grandmother and granddaughter in the garden discussing the second storyline: the grandmother's childhood after she was forcibly removed from her home and sent to a Native American Boarding School (as they were called) where her culture, language, and even her long hair were torn away. The grandmother repeats how she clung to her way of life with her brother and friends anytime "when we were alone". Flett's illustrations are beautiful, as a ...more
Apr 01, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: canadian
This is a really good book for those looking to introduce younger children to the history of residential schools. This is a hard subject to raise with kids, and my son had some tough questions about why anyone would take children away from their families and treat them cruelly. I liked the fact that this book focused on the children's resilience and determination to retain their cultural practices and family ties. The book is framed as a grandmother telling her granddaughter about her childhood ...more
May 10, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: picture-books
This brief, but beautiful picture book portrays a grandmother answering her grandchild's "why" questions, such as: "why do you wear your hair so long?" and "why do you wear so many colours?" When Native children in the Americas (in this case, Canada) were sent to boarding schools, they were forced to give up everything.... their language, hair, colourful clothing, all of which were important to their tribal identities. This lovely grandmother explains how she was able to cope with these sorrows ...more
Julia Mcknight
Jul 02, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This beautifully illustrated story of warmth and love between a grandmother and her grandchild depicts a survivor-to-child conversation about the residential school experience. The curious child asks her grandmother why she wears so many bright colours, speaks Cree, keeps her hair so long... and her grandmother gently describes the restrictions placed on her back when she was a child in residential school. She explains that now she is free to be with her family, speak her language, and live her ...more
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DAVID A. ROBERTSON (he, him, his) was the 2021 recipient of the Writers’ Union of Canada Freedom to Read Award. He is the author of numerous books for young readers including When We Were Alone, which won the 2017 Governor General's Literary Award and the McNally Robinson Best Book for Young People Award. The Barren Grounds, the first book in the middle-grade The Misewa Saga series, received a sta ...more

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