Thursday, February 21, 2013

Christy Jordan-Fenton & Margaret Pokiak-Fenton's WHEN I WAS EIGHT

The most powerful stories are those that pull you in such that you feel the emotions of the character(s) in the story and when you come to the end, you let loose a big sigh. When I Was Eight did that to me when I read it a few days ago.

Published in 2013 by Annick Press, the authors of When I Was Eight are Christy Jordan-Fenton and Margaret Pokiak-Fenton. The story told in When I Was Eight is one from Margaret's childhood. Margaret is Inuit. Christy is her daughter-in-law.

Here's the first line from the book:
I knew many things when I was eight. I knew how to keep the sled dogs quiet while Father snuck up on caribous, and to bring the team to him after a kill. I knew the sun slept in the winter and woke in the summer. And I knew that when the sun-warmed Arctic Ocean shrugged off its slumbering ice, we would cross it to trade furs with the outsiders.
Those words are quite evocative. Ocean shrugging of ice! Wow! I like thinking about that image.

And, did you notice the word "outsiders" in the last sentence? Margaret's family traded with the outsiders, and as we turn the page, we learn more about the outsiders. We see two Inuit girls. One is reading to the other. The older one is Rosie, and the younger one is Olemaun (Margaret's Inuit name). Olemaun wants to read, too, like her sister does. But, that means going to the outsiders' school...

Olemaun's dad finally agrees to let her go. Once she gets there, though, we see and read about what happens to her.

Cutting their hair and taking their traditional clothing from them was the first step in stripping Native children of their identity once they got to boarding schools. Some schools, like the one in When I Was Eight, were mission schools.

The words and the art in When I Was Eight convey a frightful but honest story about perseverance.  Olemaun learned to read, in spite of the obstacles she encountered at school.

Some of us might like children's books to be light and pretty, but for many of us, life isn't always that way. Denying that reality and that history is a disservice to everyone. According to Amazon, it'll be available on February 26th. Look for it. Order it. Share it.

1 comment:

Susan Carr said...

For older readers, there's a longer account of Olemaun's experience at the outsider's school: Fatty Legs-- also by Christy Jordan-Fenton and Margaret Pokiak-Fenton.