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Residential School Memories and the Making of the Witness Blanket
Adult Nonfiction
Pages: 180
Themes: Indigenous art, Reconciliation, Residential Schools, Survivor stories, intergenerational trauma
Publisher: Orca Book Publishers
Pub Date: 10/Sep/2019
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Picking Up the Pieces tells the story of the making of the Witness Blanket, a living work of art conceived and created by Indigenous artist Carey Newman. It includes hundreds of items collected from residential schools across Canada, everything from bricks, photos and letters to hockey skates, dolls and braids. Every object tells a story.

Carey takes the reader on a journey from the initial idea behind the Witness Blanket to the challenges in making it work to its completion. The story is told through the objects and the Survivors who donated them to the project. At every step in this important journey for children and adults alike, Carey is a guide, sharing his process and motivation behind the art. It’s a personal project. Carey’s father is a residential school Survivor. Like the Blanket itself, Picking Up the Pieces calls on readers of all ages to bear witness to the residential school experience, a tragic piece of Canada’s history.

Booklist
“Historic and current photographs and artwork frequently complement the engaging text, which is written in a personal and compelling style…Picking Up the Pieces has the feeling of a coffee-table book while presenting substantive content.”
Waubgeshig Rice, journalist and author of Moon of the Crusted Snow
"Picking Up the Pieces is both a crucial record of history and an outstanding assertion of love and community. The story behind the creation of the powerful Witness Blanket project is one of great care and consideration, with residential school Survivors and their families at the centre. By sharing his own family's connection to a brutal and shameful part of Canadian history, renowned artist Carey Newman brilliantly guides us through the meticulous and thoughtful process of creating one of the most important pieces of art to exist in this country. I had the privilege of experiencing the Witness Blanket on its tour, and it was a poignant moment that will stay with me for the rest of my life. Reading how it all came together is yet another vital experience. Like the Witness Blanket itself, Picking Up the Pieces will educate and enlighten Canadians for generations to come. It's a must-read for anyone seeking to understand Canada's residential-school saga. Most importantly, it's a touchstone of community for those survivors and their families still on the path to healing."
Daniel Heath Justice (Cherokee Nation), Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Literature and Expressive Culture, author of Why Indigenous Literatures Matter
"Objects, like people, tell stories; stories are inscribed in places and belongings as well as in books, and they carry wonder as well as wounding. This heartbreaking, eye-opening and transformative visual chronicle of Carey Newman’s Witness Blanket is a profound record of Canada’s residential school system and the Indigenous students who endured, suffered and survived it. But far more than that, it restores and re-stories the collective will of Survivors and their families to document, narrate and understand that history on their own terms, through the material objects and belongings that emerged from that harrowing history and its legacies. In a time when superficial notions of reconciliation so often ignore the challenging realities of settler colonial violence against Indigenous Peoples, Picking Up the Pieces insists on returning truth fully to our conversations about Truth and Reconciliation. Read this book. Share it. Live it. Most of all, honour its call to better relations, now and in the future."
Library Journal
“A moving catalog...Readers interested in American Indian history or education will find important insights into the significance of the Witness Blanket and its component parts.”
The Honourable Judith Guichon, former Lieutenant-Governor of British Columbia
"Picking up the Pieces is in its own way as powerful as the Blanket itself. In the stories connected to each item, collected from residential schools in every province and territory, Carey has found a profound but gentle, loving way to teach readers about our shared history. The respect with which he treats these items and the powerful stories enfolded within them allows us to move from understanding to acceptance to a shared, deep sadness. Carey’s contributions to reconciliation are monumental and will help educate all Canadians as we move through this difficult period of growth and on to a healthy shared future."
School Library Connection
“Primary sources are wonderful tools for teaching history...This book is highly recommended...A nicely executed, integral part of Canadian history that can be compared to the American atrocities regarding Native Americans and which deserves a spot in the library.”
The Bulletin for the Center for Children's Books, starred review
★ “A chronicle that will galvanize many young artists with their own history to honor, and Americans will see parallels with our country’s history of assimilationist schooling.”
The Ormsby Review
“[The] conversational tone makes Picking up the Pieces accessible to a wide audience...This book should be in all school libraries. It thoughtfully introduces the reader to the truth of residential schools, and to their legacy. It encourages critical and reflective thinking...It offers a complete overview of residential school history in a gentle way that can reach readers of different ages and backgrounds.”
Canadian Children's Book News, starred review
★ “A powerful testimony to the strength and resiliency of survivors and their families as well as the lasting impact that these institutions and policies have had within Indigenous communities. Highly recommended for school and public libraries."