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Why David Alexander Robertson wrote a children's book about residential schools

The author brings Canada's residential school history to young learners in his children's book When We Were Alone.
David Alexander Robertson is the author of several books, including the children's book When We Were Alone. (David A. Robertson/Portage & Main Press)

Winnipeg author and graphic novelist David Alexander Robertson explores the relationship between a young girl and her grandmother in his children's book When We Were Alone. Illustrated by Julie Flett, the book touches upon Canada's residential school history using vibrant images and age-appropriate storytelling. Robertson says this is a book children can relate to and a story they will carry into adolescence. 

A resource for young learners

The real reason why I wrote it is that when the TRC [Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada] came out with its calls to action in 2015, one of the things that it said was that we need to develop curriculum and resources for schools from kindergarten all the way up to Grade 12. I felt like there wasn't a lot of resources for those early learners. I wrote this book to be able to give teachers a resource they can bring into the classroom to support that learning. 

Tackling a complex history

If we want kids to go through school and learn complex math like calculus, we need to create a foundation for that. We don't start out in kindergarten teaching kids calculus. It's too difficult. I think you can take the same approach with residential school history. It is a difficult history and there are a lot of things that aren't appropriate for younger learners to learn. But there are age-appropriate ways to approach the story that are sensitive and that create empathy in young learners.

You want them to be able to take the story with them in their hearts and in their minds and carry it forward, so when they start learning about more complex issues with residential schools, they have a really solid foundation to work from.

David Alexander Robertson's comments have been edited and condensed.