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category: Children's Nonfiction
published: Sep 2010
publisher: Annick Press

Fatty Legs

A True Story

by Christy Jordan-Fenton & Margaret Pokiak-Fenton

tagged: native canadian

Eight-year-old Margaret Pokiak has set her sights on learning to read, even though it means leaving her village in the high Arctic. Faced with unceasing pressure, her father finally agrees to let her make the five-day journey to attend school, but he warns Margaret of the terrors of residential schools.

At school Margaret soon encounters the Raven, a black-cloaked nun with a hooked nose and bony fingers that resemble claws. She immediately dislikes the strong-willed young Margaret. Intending to humiliate her, the heartless Raven gives gray stockings to all the girls — all except Margaret, who gets red ones. In an instant Margaret is the laughingstock of the entire school.

In the face of such cruelty, Margaret refuses to be intimidated and bravely gets rid of the stockings. Although a sympathetic nun stands up for Margaret, in the end it is this brave young girl who gives the Raven a lesson in the power of human dignity.

Complemented by archival photos from Margaret Pokiak-Fenton’s collection and striking artworks from Liz Amini-Holmes, this inspiring first-person account of a plucky girl’s determination to confront her tormentor will linger with young readers.

About the Authors

Christy Jordan-Fenton

Margaret Pokiak-Fenton

MARGARET POKIAK-FENTON a passé son enfance sur l’Île Banks dans l’océan Arctique. Elle a écrit Étrangère chez moi, Les bas du pensionnat et Quand j’avais huit ans. Margaret est décédée en 2021.

MARGARET POKIAK-FENTON was an author, Inuvialiut knowledge keeper, and residential school survivor. Along with her daughter-in-law, she wrote Étrangère chez moi, Les bas du pensionnat, and Quand j'avais huit ans. The books have garnered more than twenty awards and distinctions, including being placed on the Canadian Children’s Book Centre’s Best Books for Kids & Teens list.
Recommended Age, Grade, and Reading Levels
9 to 12
4 to 7
Reading age:
9 to 11
  • Winner, USBBY Outstanding International Books Honor List
Editorial Reviews

“An excellent addition to any biography collection, the book is fascinating and unique, and yet universal in its message.”

— School Library Journal, 12/10

"Olemaun's spirit and determination shine through this moving memoir."

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Top  Grade
Librarian review

Fatty Legs

A feisty 8-year-old Native girl overcomes the humiliation she experiences in a residential school.

This is essential reading to provide young people with insights into residential schools. Fatty Legs is a true story of a girl whose resilient spirit helps her to overcome the cruel torment she receives from both students and adults at a residential school. I would share this as a good example of biographical writing. The rich visual images enhance the impact of Margaret Poliak’s harrowing story.

Teacher’s guide available (http://www.annickpress.com/books/lesson-plans)

Source: Association of Canadian Publishers. Top Grade Selection 2016.

Association of Book Publishers of BC
Librarian review

Fatty Legs: A True Story

This autobiography follows a young Inuit girl, Margaret (Olemaun) Pokiak, in her quest to learn to read. To get an education she must leave her family, community and culture on Banks Island to attend a Catholic residential school in Aklavik. Despite the misgivings of her parents Margaret gets her wish and goes to school. There she encounters a nun who takes an immediate and vindictive dislike to her. Margaret doesn’t let this get her down, on the contrary she teaches “the rave” a lesson about human dignity. Margaret emerges from the school with her spirit intact, and with the ability to read. Family photographs add to the authenticity of the story.

Caution: Some younger readers may find the illustrations disturbing. The religious order is portrayed in an unflattering light.

Source: The Association of Book Publishers of BC. Canadian Aboriginal Books for Schools. 2010-2011.

Canadian Children's  Book Centre
Librarian review

Fatty Legs: A True Story

For over 60 years, Olemaun (Margaret) Pokiak kept a secret. Now, in this vivid memoir, aided by her daughter-in-law, she tells a story of courage and determination. Intent on learning to read, the eight-year-old Inuvialuit (Western Inuit) girl persuades her father to let her attend a residential school in 1944 in Aklavik, Northwest Territories. Her father worries that her spirit will be worn down, but Olemaun knows herself to be proud and resilient. Her strength is tested at the school by a nun (whom she privately nicknames the Raven) who targets her right from the start, forcing her to wear red stockings that draw the other girls’ taunts. Readers will cheer for Olemaun / Margaret and delight in the solution she finds to thwart her tormentor.

The young girl’s quest for education and her coming to terms with a cruel adversary and a kind advocate have all the elements of folktale. The text is rich in verbs, physical detail and imagery, which would make the book an excellent read-aloud. Outsiders flit about the north, plucking children from their homes. The powerful illustrations — with their play of light and dark, and the mask-like face of the Raven — contribute to the folkloric, universal quality of the tale. A scrapbook of photos featuring Arctic family and school life enriches the book and roots it in reality. A map and explanatory footnotes, as well as a final chapter on residential schools, expand and provide a context for the story.

Like Shi-shi-etko and Shin-chi’s Canoe — and the memoirs of Larry Loyie — this book helps younger readers understand of the lasting impact of residential schools.

Source: The Canadian Children's Bookcentre. Winter 2011. Volume 34 No. 1.

Canadian Children's  Book Centre
Librarian review

Fatty Legs

On a trip to Aklavik with her father, Margaret is mesmerized by the dark-cloaked nuns and the pale-skinned priests. She knows they hold the key to the greatest of the outsiders’ mysteries — reading. Even though her father warns her that her spirit will be worn down and made small, she begs to attend the school. At the hands of a cruel and heartless nun, Margaret suffers humiliation, but emerges with her spirit intact.

Source: The Canadian Children’s Book Centre. Best Books for Kids & Teens. 2011.

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