Monday, June 20, 2011

National Aboriginal Day – June 21st, 2011

Since 1996, Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada has acknowledged the contributions, heritage and diversity of First Nations, Inuit and Metis peoples with a celebration on June 21st.

This provides a great opportunity for me to tell you about Fatty Legs: a true story by Christy Jordan-Fenton and Margaret Pokiak-Fenton. Christy retells the story of her mother-in-law, Margaret's first two years living in a residential school in Aklavik, Northwest Territories, Canada.

As an eight-year-old, Margaret wanted nothing more than to learn to read. But to learn to read she must go to school, which her father forbids her. She struggles to understand why. Going away to school run by Catholic missionaries was not necessarily beneficial to Inuit children and if fact, was detrimental. Margaret’s father knows this and tries to explain to her, using the analogy of a worn stone:

Do you see this rock? It was once jagged and full of sharp, jutting points, but the water of the ocean slapped and slapped at it, carrying away its angles and edges. Now it is nothing but a small pebble. That is what the outsiders will do to you at school.
Margaret wears away his resistance insisting that she will work hard, be good and be strong. The school does to turn out to be just as awful as her father predicted. Margaret becomes the target of a nun she names Raven who has taken a particular dislike to her. She is ridiculed in front of the other girls, given extra chores, mocked for not knowing how to read English and humiliated when she is the only one given red socks. But Margaret’s resourcefulness, resiliency and strong spirit (with a little help from a kind nun) prevail over Raven’s cruelty.

The illustrations by Liz Amini-Holmes are wonderful. The stylization of the nuns is very evocative of their characters, whether sinister in the case of Raven or more serene for the kind nun. I particularly like the illustration of Margaret as she is about to deal with the problematic red socks.

Small boxed footnotes, mostly at the beginning of the book, provide context by explaining Inuit words, natural phenomena such as pingos and the northern lights, and occasionally other words that might be unfamiliar such as Dominion Day.

Also, thumbnail photos are interspersed throughout the book, directing you to pages at the back with the full-sized picture and a line or two from her memoir to help young readers visualize Margaret and her family, the Arctic landscape, and the school.

It’s a short story that will likely find an audience with grades 3 to 7. It will start readers on the way to learning about residential schools but also address issues of resiliency in the face of bullying and hardship.

Today is Nonfiction Monday, a round-up of nonfiction children's literature.  Drop by Geo Librarian for this week's event.


Starleigh Grass said...

Thanks for posting. I've never heard of this and now I definitely have to check it out!

Tammy Flanders said...

Thanks for stopping by Starleigh. I'd love to hear what you think of it or how you would use it in the classroom (if you'd use in the classroom).

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