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list price: $14.99
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category: Children's Nonfiction
published: Mar 2021
publisher: Annick Press

When I Was Eight

by Christy Jordan-Fenton & Margaret-Olemaun Pokiak-Fenton, read by Lisa Nasson

tagged: native canadian

Bestselling memoir Fatty Legs for younger readers.

Olemaun is eight and knows a lot of things. But she does not know how to read. Ignoring her father’s warnings, she travels far from her Arctic home to the outsiders’ school to learn.

The nuns at the school call her Margaret. They cut off her long hair and force her to do menial chores, but she remains undaunted. Her tenacity draws the attention of a black-cloaked nun who tries to break her spirit at every turn. But the young girl is more determined than ever to learn how to read.

Based on the true story of Margaret Pokiak-Fenton, and complemented by stunning illustrations, When I Was Eight makes the bestselling Fatty Legs accessible to younger readers. Now they, too, can meet this remarkable girl who reminds us what power we hold when we can read.

About the Authors

Christy Jordan-Fenton

Margaret-Olemaun Pokiak-Fenton

Lisa Nasson

Contributor Notes

Christy Jordan-Fenton lives in Fort St. John, British Columbia. Margaret Pokiak-Fenton is her children’s grandmother. Jordan-Fenton practices traditional ceremonies with the Kainai Blackfoot.


Margaret-Olemaun Pokiak-Fenton is an Inuvialuk elder and artisan who spent her early years on Banks Island in the high Arctic. She now lives in Fort St. John, British Columbia.


Lisa Nasson is a Mi’kmaq actor, director and storyteller from Millbrook First Nation, Nova Scotia. She studied acting at George Brown College in Toronto, and studied Classical Theatre with the Birmingham Conservatory at the Stratford Festival. Lisa has taught at the Neptune Theatre School in Halifax, and the Young Peoples Theatre in Toronto. Lisa was also the Associate Artistic Director at Native Earth Performing Arts in Toronto. She began her journey with Fatty Legs as Maragret-Olemaun’s voice with Xara Choral Theatre in 2012, and has played the role many times since then. Oleamaun’s voice has echoed in all of Lisa’s work since her first run of the theatre production, and is forever grateful for her courage, strength, and resilience.

Recommended Age, Grade, and Reading Levels
6 to 9
1 to 4
Reading age:
6 to 9
Editorial Review

“Utterly compelling.” — Kirkus Reviews, * starred review, 02/13

“A frightful but honest story about perseverance . . . Look for it. Order it. Share it.” — American Indians in Children’s Literature (AICL), 07/21/13

“A searing account of assimilation policies and a celebration of the human spirit.” — Booklist, 04/13

“This book is a small but powerful reminder of the freedom that literacy brings.” — School Library Journal, 05/13

“Olemaun is a great character and an excellent example for young readers to follow.” — CM Reviews, 06/13

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Top  Grade
Librarian review

When I Was Eight

Margaret is determined to learn how to read, but that means leaving her Arctic home for the outsiders' school. A version of Fatty Legs for younger readers.

Residential schooling is an important part of Canada’s history. This book makes it accessible for young students to learn about some of the history through the lens of a young Inuit girl, Margaret, who wants to go to school to learn how to read. Besides telling one story of learning to read, several themes can be found in this story: assimilation, using your voice, and standing your ground.

Also available: Not My Girl by Christy Jordan-Fenton & Margaret Pokiak-Fenton

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

Association of Book Publishers of BC
Librarian review

When I Was Eight

In spite of her father’s warnings, eight-year-old Olemaun wants to learn to read which means attending a residential school. Renamed Margaret she remains feisty and stubborn attracting the negative attention of one of the nuns. In spite of insults, extra chores and frightening punishments, Margaret teaches herself to read and finally beats the nuns at their own game. This short picture book is an adaptation of the true story of Margaret Pokiak-Fenton. Previously published as Fatty Legs, When I Was Eight this book introduces Margaret’s story to younger readers. Charming colour illustrations enhance the text.

Source: The Association of Book Publishers of BC. Canadian Aboriginal Books for Schools. 2013-2014.

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