When I Was Eight, by Christy Jordan-Fenton and Margaret Pokiak-Fenton (Based on "Fatty Legs")
I adore this book for many reasons. I love the illustration, the resilience and focus of Olemaun, the female protagonist, the language the author uses and the general inspiration it gives my students at the beginning of the year.
I chose this book as the first read aloud I did with grade 4 this year. In grade 3 students are introduced to our state's native population and begin to develop an understanding of colonialism. With this background knowledge, I am able to introduce this book, and Olemaun as an Inuit girl. In the story, she refers to "the outsiders", Catholic Europeans that run the schools. Olemaun is determined to learn to read, as her older sister had done before, but her father is hesitant to send her to the Catholic school with good reason, but succumbs to his daughter's pleas.
Upon arrival, Olemaun's braids were cut, her l clothes removed and her name taken, she was given a new one- Margaret. What Olemaun went through to learn to read was unimaginable to many of our students. The most common reactions from the students I see are cries of unfairness and disbelief. This book can be used to lead discussion on education as a right or privilege. While no school may seem like a great idea at times to students (especially if summer was super fun), what would they ultimately lose? How far would you go for the ability to read?
"I was Olemaun, conqueror of evil, reader of books.
I was a girl who traveled to a strange and faraway land to stand against a tyrant like Alice.
And like Alice, I was brave, clever and as unyeilding as the strong stone that sharpens the ulu.
I finally knew this, like I knew many things, because now I could read."