Fatty Legs


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.

The Winds of Heaven

The Winds of Heaven by Judith Clarke

An amazing book that takes a deep look at love, depression, sisterhood, and life.  Clementine and Fan were opposites in many ways, but that just drew them closer.  They were more sisters than cousins, pulled together over the summer they spent at Fan’s house in Lake Conapaira.  Clementine was dull and regular next to the wild and amazing Fan.  But Fan’s life was not good, living alone with her abusive mother now that both her father and older sister had left.  Fan longed to head to the blue hills that she could see from her room, knew that there was something special out there waiting for her.  As time went on, both young women faced decisions that would change their lives, fears that would overwhelm them, and responsibilities that weighed upon them.  This is a book about the two very different friends, who both relied on each other despite their distance from  one another and the small choices that forced them even further apart.

Clarke’s writing is incandescent in this novel.  My book bristles with bookmarks, marking passages where the writing is astounding and staggeringly lovely.  Here is one of my favorites from early in the book where Clementine is describing how different Lake Conapaira is from her home:

You could even smell the difference: a mixture of sun and dust, wild honey and the smoky tang from the old kerosene fridge on the back veranda.  And you could smell feelings, too – Clementine was sure of it: you could smell anger and hatred and disappointment and jagged little fears.  The anger smelled like iron and the disappointment smelled like mud.

Clarke moves from dense writing like this that truly brings a reader into the scene and makes it real to lighter moments, dwelling on certain thoughts for awhile.  And beautifully, those are the moments that the reader carries with them, importantly through the book, the moments that must be remembered at the end.

This is an Australian novel that is steeped in Australia.  Readers will feel the red dirt in the pages, thanks to the vivid descriptions that Clarke offers us.  The sense of place is not only strong, it is inherent to the story.  Clarke set this book in modern time but the bulk of the story takes place in the 1950s and 1960s as Clementine and Fan grow up.  The time is important here too, reflected in the story.

The two characters, Fan and Clementine, are drawn with great care.  Readers learn about how they think, how they approach the world, and the way the world has shaped them in turn.  Though both girls are very different, they struggle with similar things.  They both have moments of weakness and shame, paired with moments of strength and empowerment.  They both see the other person as the strong one, the intelligent one, the beauty.  It is what brings them together and also what drives them apart.

This is a book about our journey through life and the choices we make.  It is a powerful book, one where even though the ending does not surprise is shockingly brutal at times.  Yet with the brutality comes a beauty as well.  Highly recommended, this is a book appropriate for good readers who will enjoy the prose.  Appropriate for ages 15-17.  Make sure you have some tissues around when reading the end.

Reviewed from copy received from Henry Holt.