Staff Review – Phyllis’s Orange Shirt by Phyllis Webstad

Review written by Kayla Berthelette

I am Metis and recently received my diploma in the Native Child and Family Services program at Confederation College before becoming employed at the Thunder Bay Public Library. I also have three young kids at home, and broaching the topic of Canada’s dark history of residential schools isn’t something I was exactly thrilled to do.

This year has been a roller coaster of emotions for me, and at large the Indigenous communities, as our nation watched and listened about more and more bodies becoming unearthed and discovered at various former locations of Residential Schools across Canada. Having to explain why orange shirts were popping up on display, and the reason why we were also putting one up would have been much easier if I had read this book to my little ones – as opposed to having to fumble over my words with major awkwardness – for an explanation.

This book is an adaptation of the original format and is intended for younger children. The pictures have been replaced with subtler images and the story has been shortened, simplified and has a rhyming scheme.

Phyllis tells her story of how her orange shirt was taken away from her at a young age. The book begins by explaining how Phyllis lived a traditional life on reserve with her Grandmother, by living off the land. One day she goes into town with her Granny, she picks out a shiny and bright orange shirt for her first day at school, but when she arrives her mood starts to change and she is no longer excited to be there.

Phyllis has her shirt taken away from her, and longs to return home. She is sad and obviously misses her homelife and everything that has been taken away from her. This story reminds us why we wear our orange shirts on September 30th and teaches adults and children alike the reason behind the “Every Child Matters” movement.

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