The Orange Shirt Story by Phyllis Webstad & Brock Nicol (Illustrator)
Come September 30, make sure you wear your orange shirt and be ready to explain why.
On Saturday I went to Kidsbooks in Vancouver to pick up a copy of this book and get it signed by the author. I have family and friends who experienced residential schools and while standing in line reading this book, I couldn't help but make connections to their narratives. I was already feeling weepy by the time I got to the signing table. When I told Phyllis about one friend who had run away from a school at 13, she asked me if my friend was still with us. That's when I realized at an even deeper level, how traumatic these experiences were, and understood the full implications of them. That's when eyes filled with tears.
When Phyllis Webstad was six years old she left the safety of her Granny's home to travel with other children to a residential school. The beautiful orange shirt purchased for this occasion was taken from her by the nuns and never returned. Life at the residence was harsh, but Phyllis and the other children were sent off to public schools during the day where her teacher was kind and helpful. She endured 300 days of hardship before returning home to her Granny. Phyllis never went back.
She was one of the lucky ones.
Phyllis' story in an important contribution to the collection of narratives about residential schools that let children and others understand what happened to indigenous children and their families here in Canada and the United States. Brock Nicol's art work in the illustrations is just stunning.
The back matter consists of additional information about Phyllis Webstad, the Secwepemc (Shuswap) People, and the history of St. Josheph's Residential School. It also includes a glossary of terms used in the book and information about September 30 - Orange Shirt Day, the day we honour residential school survivors and their family.
All school libraries should own multiple copies of this book. Every classroom should have at least one.