Fatty Legs: a True Story by Christy Jordan-Fenton & Margaret Pokiak-Fenton, illustrations by Liz Amini-Holmes
This is the story of an Inuit girl and her experiences in a residential school. Margaret Pokiak decides at age 8 that she must learn to read. And the only way that she will be able to learn to read is to attend the residential school that is many miles away from her home village in the arctic. Her father and older sister, who have both attended the school, try to convince her to stay at home and learn the native way instead, but she insists. At the school, she encounters the Raven, a nun who immediately takes a dislike to Margaret and her strong will and courage. She begins to intimidate Margaret, putting her in red stockings unlike the rest of the girls and meting out harsher punishments to her. But through it all, Margaret remains strong. A sympathetic nun sticks up for her and eventually Margaret finds her way back to her family.
The book softens the story to a level that children will be able to handle, focusing more on the emotional and mental hardship than physical abuse. The humiliation of Margaret by the Raven will resonate with children as will the harsh conditions and poor food. Married to these in the book is the loss of culture and language, which is as horrible as the treatment.
Margaret is an amazing girl with her self-possession, her courage and her faithfulness to herself and her culture. She is brave beyond belief as she enters a foreign culture and comes away having shown them what being human is all about. The book is simply written, allowing the story to carry through. The illustrations are strong, depicting the harsher times at the school. Historical photographs are worked into the book, tying it firmly to history and the true story it is based on.
This book is definitely worth having in a public library. It offers a clear view of residential schools nicely paired with a young girl’s naive desire for education. Large font, plenty of interspersed images, and a short length will have reluctant readers interested as well. Appropriate for ages 8-11.
Reviewed from copy received from Annick Press.