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Monday, August 30, 2010

fatty legs, written by Christy Jordan-Fenton and Margaret Pokiak-Fenton. Annick Press, 2010. $12.95 ages 8 and up

"The school's smells were unfriendly and harsh against the tender skin of my inner nostrils. I craned my head in every possible direction I could, without moving my feet. It was like someone had enlarged the Hudson's Bay Company by many times and stripped it clean. My eyes darted from wall to wall, trying to take it all in."

Even as a very young girl, Olemaun Pokiak is strong-willed, inquisitive and set on going to the school run by the outsiders. She wants to read and that means she must leave her small village and attend a residential school. Her family warns her about the school, but she never lets up on her request. Her father finally agrees and they make the five-day journey that will take her there. She is eight. At school she soon meets the Raven, a nun with a hooked nose and bony claws. Her dislike for this strong, opinionated young girl is quickly evident. Her persecution would humble a weaker student. Despite embarrassment and unceasing cruelty, 'Margaret' does not falter. She shows dignity in the worst of circumstances and can hold her head high when she finally leaves the school, able to read and write in English...her dream fulfilled.

The strong voice of Margaret holds our attention and gives insight into the many changes and fears she faces in a new and lonely place. She is often set apart from the other girls because of the Raven's acute dislike for her and the bullying that she uses to try to make Margaret more obedient and less resolute. When the Raven makes her wear red stockings, thus the nickname Fatty Legs, it's the last straw for this resilient and tenacious ten year old. Only now, more than 60 years later, is she willing to share the secret of the disappearing red stockings. It is a testament to the will of a woman who went on to parent eight children, work for the Hudson's Bay Company and maintain and honor her Inuit heritage. Today, she can be found at the local farmers' market selling 'Inuit crafts and the best bread and bannock in the North Peace.'

Archival photos from Margaret's collection give readers a sense of immediacy for the story being told and the strong, boldly colored artwork of Liz Amini-Holmes provides the clear and often heartbreaking truths about this brave woman's journey to literacy.

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