With her ‘Utsoo (grandmother), ‘Utsiyan (grandfather), and other family members, Mary reminisces about the wonderful times in her early childhood of feeling loved and cherished. This was before she, along with her sister and her brother, were taken to the Lejac Residential School, located in British Columbia, by the clergy. Her memories of the school are of being hungry and cold, missing her family, and not being allowed to see her brother. The nuns were very strict and often cruel, strapping the children whenever they spoke Dakelh. Despite the nuns’ scorn, Mary remained proud of her ‘Uba (father) because he was a Chief.
As they were constantly underfed and hungry at school, Mary and other girls used their sewing skills to fashion secret pockets in their petticoats. Here, they would hide food they snuck from the kitchen, which helped them survive and gave them hope. Mary reflects on the ingenuity and strength demonstrated by the girls at Lejac: they sewed their “survival into every stitch” in the face of cruelty and genocide.
Readers learn in the back matter, which includes a glossary of terms and an author’s note, that The Secret Pocket is a true story based on Peggy Janicki’s mother Mary. By providing the truth in an accessible way, Janicki helps push reconciliation forward. Through this story, she illustrates the courage, tenacity, and resilience of the human spirit, as well as the determination, intelligence, and strength of these children in the face of abuse and injustice. Victor’s illustrations reflect the emotional tone of the story, as she switches from the warm, bright, and cheery colours of Mary’s home and family to the cold, muted tones when she is at the residential school.
An engaging and important story, this book is highly recommended for home, public, and school libraries.