________________ CM . . . . Volume XVIII Number 23 . . . . February 17, 2012


A Stranger at Home: A True Story.

Christy Jordan-Fenton & Margaret Pokiak-Fenton. Illustrated by Liz Amini-Holmes.
Toronto, ON: Annick Press, 2011.
120 pp., pbk. & hc., $12.95 (pbk.), $21.95 (hc.).
ISBN 978-1-55451-361-1 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-55451-362-8 (hc.).

Subject Headings:
Pokiak-Fenton, Margaret-Childhood and youth-Juvenile literature.
Inuit-Canada-Residential schools-Juvenile literature.
Inuit women-Biography-Juvenile literature.

Grades 3-8 / Ages 8-13.

Review by Shelbey Krahn.

*** ˝ /4



I heard a voice I recognized – it was my mother’s. She was speaking to my siblings. I turned and followed it, making my way through the throng to where she stood, with my two-year-old brother Ernest tied to her back and my sisters Mabel and Elizabeth still looking up at the boat for me to disembark. I wondered why my father had not run to meet me the minute my feet hit the shore, but he was not with them. I stood proudly before my mother and siblings and waited for them to rush toward me.

My mother gave me a strange look, as if to question why I was standing before her. I smiled, but she crossed her arms and shook her head. “Not my girl. Not my girl,” she shouted up to the dark-cloaked brothers in the only English I had ever heard her speak.

A sequel to the memoir Fatty Legs, A Stranger at Home details Margaret’s return to her Inuit family after being at residential school for two years. With endless chores and poor meals, the brothers and nuns had turned Olemaun, a plump, round-faced girl, into Margaret, a gaunt creature who had forgotten her mother tongue and was disgusted by her previously favourite foods. Margaret suffers the status of being an outsider; because of her lack of language, elders find her rude and younger children laugh at her. Books and dogs console her. Just when she’s finding happiness again, her father tells her she needs to go back to the residential school in order to take care of her younger sisters there.

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     The level of detail makes this a very rich story. For example, the first time Margaret mentions her kamik, there is a footnote to inform readers that “Kamik are a type of soft boot worn by the Inuit. They are also called mukluks.” In the margin is a colour photograph of kamik. Some of the margin-notes are small photographs accompanied by page numbers directing the reader to larger, annotated photographs at the back of the book.

     An especially poignant subplot involves a man whose hair “sprang from his head in tight, kinky spirals like a strange dark moss.” Margaret’s mother refers to him as Du-bil-ak – the devil. His outsider status is far greater than Margaret’s, and she feels compassion for him and even tries to share her beloved Gulliver’s Travels with him.

     This memoir, detailing a woeful piece of Canadian history and demonstrating Margaret’s strength of character, compassion, courage and her willingness to sacrifice herself for her family’s sake, gives the reader a lot to ponder.

Highly Recommended.

Shelbey Krahn is a teacher-librarian living in Sudbury, ON.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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