When I Was Eight

JORDAN-FENTON, Christy & . illus. by Gabrielle Grimard. 32p. Annick. 2013. PLB $21.95. 978-1-55451-491-5; pap. $9.95. ISBN 978-1-55451-490-8.
K-Gr 4—This condensed, illustrated version of Fatty Legs (Annick, 2010) brings the power of literacy to even younger children. An eight-year-old Inuit child from Banks Island in far northern Canada desperately wanted to learn to read English like her older sister, but her father refused to let her attend the Indian Residential School. However, her persistent pleading wore away his resistance, and he consented. They made the five-day trek to the Catholic-run school where Olemaun was stripped of her Native identity-her hair, her clothes, even her name. She was allowed to keep only her beloved copy of Alice in Wonderland. Renamed Margaret, she clung to her desire to learn to read, enduring humiliation and harsh treatment from cruel nuns and unkind classmates. She instinctively knew that literacy was powerful, and she used it to give her courage and "to carry [her] far away from the laughter." In a showdown with a nun, Margaret defied the insensitive teacher, who in turn tried to humiliate Margaret by demanding that she read a difficult passage aloud in class. However, she read without hesitation and triumphed. "There was no stopping me" is an accurate description of what happens when someone-child or adult-learns to read. Sprinkled throughout are details of Inuit life. The beautiful, expressive watercolor illustrations depict Margaret's journey from her village to the misery of residential school to her success. This book is a small but powerful reminder of the freedom that literacy brings.—Lisa Crandall, formerly at the Capital Area District Library, Holt, MI

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