Finally, a novel for children that grounds it story in Canadian history, specifically around children in Residential Schools. This story focuses on one family’s experience as their first child, Red Wolf, is sent to a Residential School. The author juxtaposes the story of a wolf, who in his story, watched his family being shot for their fur. The wolf’s story of trying to survive the wilderness is just as important as the boy trying to survive the school system.
One thing Jennifer Dance does is bring in most of the issues that faced First Nations families: loss of land, loss of language, family, alcoholism, suicide, abuse, and loss of culture. At times, I was wondering how difficult this book would be for students to read this text but one of my students wanted to read it right away and is totally caught up in the story.
When I shared the story with my Book Club, the students were able to make connections with their prior knowledge of going to the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) and knowing some of the stories from exploring the art, including seeing the image of Thomas Moore (see image), before and after his entrance to a Residential School.
One of the most poignant moments in the story is when Red Wolf shaves his head in respect for the loss of his friend. The teacher mistakes this moment as the boy becoming more attuned to the “Canadian ways”.
As difficult as it is, this is a book that will inspire many dialogues. One in particular, for me, was when Ms. Dance, placed caring characters, such as the school nurse and a local farmer, who do their best to show kindness and compassion to the children at the school: Where were the Canadians that recognized the horrors that happened in the Residential schools? To me, and the students, it really is a hard to understand that the atrocities were carried on for so long.
More information about residential schools: A History of Residential Schools in Canada