CM . . .
. Volume XVII Number 11. . . .November 12, 2010
Fatty Legs: A True Story.
Christy Jordan-Fenton & Margaret Pokiak-Fenton. Artwork by Liz Amini-Holmes.
Toronto, ON: Annick Press, 2010.
104 pp., pbk. & hc., $12.95 (pbk.), $21.95 (hc.).
ISBN 978-1-55451-246-1 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-55451-247-8 (hc.).
Fenton, Margaret Lucy-Childhood and youth-Juvenile literature.
Inuit-Canada-Residential schools-Juvenile literature.
Inuit women-Biography-Juvenile literature.
Grades 2-5 / Ages 7-10.
Review by Shelbey Krahn.
When I was a young girl, outsiders came flitting across the North. They plucked us from our homes on the scattered islands of the Arctic Ocean and carried us back to the nests they called schools, in Aklavik.
Three times I had made the five-day journey to Aklavik with my father, across the open ocean, past Tuktoyaktuk, and through the tangled Mackenzie River delta, to buy supplies. I was mesmerized on each trip by the spectacle of the strange dark-cloaked nuns, whose tongues flickered with French-Canadian accents, and the pale-skinned priests who had traveled across a different ocean from a far-off land called Belgium. They held the key to the greatest of the outsiders' mysteries - reading.
Christy Jordan-Fenton has shared her mother-in-law's story of surviving residential school in Canada's Arctic. Margaret's character is engaging – her persistence, her strength, and her curiosity touch the reader. The front cover conveys the story well: four girls stand with their arms by their sides, their heads all slightly tilted (conveying a sense of timidity or diffidence), eyes hidden or downcast, but Margaret is taller, arms crossed, head straight, lips resolute, wearing the oversized red stockings which bring about her nickname of Fatty Legs. Margaret's eyes are out of the frame of the painting, but the reader can imagine their resolute determination, all the better for their absence.
Margaret's desire to learn to read makes her willing to sacrifice living with her family, going to a place her parents and sister tell her is objectionable. Her father uses this metaphor to illustrate his
concern: "Do you see this rock? It once was jagged and full of sharp, jutting points, but the water slapped and slapped at it, carrying away its angles and edges. Now it is nothing but a small pebble. That is what the outsiders will do to you at the school." The nun referred to as Raven does her best to grind away Margaret's spirit. The nun in charge, Sister MacQuillan, also referred to as Swan, shows Margaret kindness. Margaret's strong spirit inspires dislike in one nun, but respect from the other.
The story is only 104 pages long, with many evocative illustrations and well-chosen photographs. The narrative is tightly focussed on the main complication of the red tights and the antagonism of the bullying nun referred to as Raven. The book's press release suggests an audience of 9-12-year-olds, but since the plot is quite simple and the protagonist is eight-years-old, I think 7-to-10-year-olds would best appreciate it. Some of the words are unfamiliar, but their meanings are explained in the text or in reader-friendly footnotes.
Shelbey Krahn is a librarian in Laurentian University's Curriculum Resource Centre in Sudbury, ON.
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