Reading Lists·My Life in Books

6 books on Canada's residential schools recommended by Duncan McCue and the Kuper Island podcast team

Kuper Island is an eight-part series that tells the stories of four children who attended residential school: three who survived and one who didn’t. Kuper Island is streaming now on CBC Listen or wherever you get your podcasts. 

Kuper Island is an eight-part series streaming now

Kuper Island is a CBC podcast hosted by Duncan McCue, left, and produced by Martha Troian and Jodie Martinson. (CBC)

The new CBC Podcast series, Kuper Islandtells the story of four students: three who survived and one who didn't. They attended one of Canada's most notorious residential schools — where unsolved deaths, abuse and lies haunt the community and the survivors to this day.

Kuper Island is an eight-episode series hosted by journalist Duncan McCue. You can find it on CBC Listen or wherever you get your podcasts. 

To continue the conversation, Kuper Island host McCue and producers Martha Troian and Jodie Martinson connected with CBC Books to share some of the books that impacted them when reflecting on and researching the residential school system. 

Genocidal Love: A Life After Residential School by Bevann Fox 

Genocidal Love is a book by Bevann Fox. (University of Regina Press/ZG Stories)

Duncan McCue: "This fictional memoir is a powerful examination of the long-term consequences of residential schools on the lives of survivors and their families.

"Residential school narratives tend to focus on a child's life at the school, but Fox chooses not to dwell on the horrors of what happened during her three years of residential schooling (which she shares in a succinct and harrowing sixteen pages). Instead, she examines how the childhood abuses she endured have influenced her adult life, everything from romantic relationships to parenting.

I found this to be an incredibly brave book, certainly helpful for survivors and their children who are charting a path toward their own healing.- Duncan McCue

"It's also a story of a survivor finding her voice to become a successful artist/writer and her journey to learn to trust again. I found this to be an incredibly brave book, certainly helpful for survivors and their children who are charting a path toward their own healing, but an absolutely essential book for any who would ask 'Why don't they just get over it?'"

Missing Children and Unmarked Burials, vol. 4 by Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada

Missing Children and Unmarked Burials, vol. 4 document findings from The Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. (McGill-Queen's University Press )

Martha Troian: "This is the last volume of the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation. It speaks to the Indigenous children who attended a residential school and never returned home.

"This volume reveals as best as possible a statistical analysis and background about who, why and where these children died and where some of them might be buried."

When We Were Alone by David A. Robertson, illustrated by Julie Flett

In When We Were Alone by David A. Robertson, illustrated by Julie Flett, a young girl listens to her grandmother's stories about attending residential school. (TD Canadian Children's Literature Award)

Jodie Martinson: "This is a powerful book to share with little readers who are just beginning to understand what happened at Canada's residential schools. The impacts of the school are explained in ways even the smallest kids can relate to. As they plant a garden, a little girl asks her grandmother why she dresses in such colourful clothes.

It's a place to start and continue to build from as we teach our own kids the truth about Canada.- Jodie Martinson

"Her grandma tells her about a school where all the kids all had to wear the same dark clothes 'like storm clouds.' It's a place to start and continue to build from as we teach our own kids the truth about Canada. 

A National Crime by John S. Milloy

A National Crime is a book by John S. Milloy. (University of Manitoba Press, CBC News)

Martha Troian: "Considered one of the most important Canadian books ever written, Milloy takes the reader back to the founding vision of the residential schools system, how these schools were managed and built to their eventual closure.

"While Milloy recognizes conversations are taking place about residential schools, unfinished work, accountability and healing remain endless."

Five Little Indians by Michelle Good

Five Little Indians is a novel by Michelle Good. (HarperCollins, Silken Sellinger Photography)

Jodie Martinson: "This book has received so much attention and it should. I read it over the winter while we were beginning to write the episodes for Kuper Island and found echoing the stories of the survivors in our podcast. Although Good never explicitly identifies the school she's writing about, the book is also set along the coast in Southern BC and in Vancouver.

This book has received so much attention and it should.- Jodie Martinson

"It gives heartbreaking insight into the pain the five main characters carry with them in their first years out of the school, as they find themselves dropped into Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, trying to rebuild their lives and find love."

In The Shadow of the Red Brick Building by Raymond Tony Charlie

In The Shadow of the Red Brick Building is a book by Raymond Tony Charlie. (Askew Creek Publishing, twitter/Charli12Raymond)

Jodie Martinson: "Before we interviewed Raymond Tony Charlie, we read a draft of his recently-finished book. Tony has made it his work to speak to people — including hundreds of school-aged children — about his time at Kuper Island. Telling his story has been part of his healing.

The warmth and generosity we felt getting to know Tony radiates from this book.- Jodie Martinson

"He begins his book with an invitation: 'I would like to kindly invite you to take a walk with me or perhaps have a seat next to me … I can talk with you but it is easier if you just sit and listen to me for a while as my path was crammed with hardships and challenges.' The warmth and generosity we felt getting to know Tony radiates from this book.

"We are so fortunate to be invited to listen."

Learn more about the CBC Podcast series Kuper Island:

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