Logo Title Quebec Reading Connection

A Stranger at Home

Amini-Holmes, Liz (Illustrator)
Annick Press 2011. 124 pages
First published: 2011
ISBN: 9781554513611 (paperback)
9781554513628 (hardcover)
9781554515936 (e-book)
Original language: English
Book type: Novel

Text Elements:

character, conflict, figurative language, multimodal, point of view, setting, structures and features

Award

USBBY Outstanding International Books List – 2012

Reading Range

 
Cycle
Elementary
Secondary
 
1
2
3
1
2
ELA
K
1
2
3
4
5
6
1
2
3
4
5
ESL
1
2
3
4
5
6
1
2
3
4
5
ESL Intensive & Enriched
5
6
1
2
3
4
5

Description:

When Olemaun Pokiak returns from two years at a residential Catholic school in Aklavik, Northwest Territories, she is a very different girl. She is gaunt and her long hair has been chopped off. While at school, she had wanted nothing more than to slip her feet back into the soft skin of her kamik boots, but her feet are no longer used to the thin soles. Underfed by the nuns, she longed for her mother’s cooking, but now the whale blubber, game and salted fish turn her stomach—“Olemaun couldn’t eat cabbage soup and Margaret couldn’t eat pipsi.” Worst of all, she has forgotten how to speak Inuvialuktun. Isolated from her family and friends, Olemaun turns to books and the landscape around Tuktoyaktuk, and slowly slips back into a semblance of her life, albeit with a sundered, hybrid identity.

The vivid first-person narrative exposes the effects of the “main goal” of the residential school program, which was, as the book’s afterword points out, “to strip Aboriginal children of their roots.” The children’s struggle at school—being away from home very young, indoctrination, humiliation, hard labour and abuse—was compounded by the struggle of returning as an “outsider.”

The historically informative and narratively compelling book is completed by spot colour illustrations that brightly render the land and its people, as well as by definitions, historical information and archival material.

  •  

    Consider the title and cover illustration. Make predictions about the story. Discuss what it would feel like to be a stranger in your own home.

  •  

    Olemaun’s name means “hard stone used to sharpen an ulu.” Choose an object to represent yourself. Be prepared to explain the significance of your choice.

  •  

    Olemaun is haunted by Du-bi-lak, and then she has empathy for him. Outline how many residential school children were treated like Du-bi-lak when they returned to their communities.

  •  

    Olemaun is referred to as “outsider.” In your reader-writer’s notebook, write about a time when you felt like an outsider. Is being an outsider always negative?

  •  

    Read the author’s note about residential schools and how they shaped people’s lives. Write an argument, from the point of view of a residential school leader, explaining why they believe their schools are of value. Write a counter-argument from the point of view of Olemaun.

  •  

    Consider the title and cover illustration. Make predictions about the story. Discuss what it would feel like to be a stranger in your own home.

  •  

    Create a story timeline. Compare Olemaun’s life and schedule to your own.

  •  

    Create a character map for Olemaun at the beginning and at the end of the story. Discuss how she changes.

  •  From Olemaun’s experience, discuss whether preserving your mother tongue helps construct your identity.
  •  

    Olemaun is referred to as “outsider.” In your reader-writer’s notebook, write about a time when you felt like an outsider. Is being an outsider always negative?

  •  

    How does reading this book help you understand the First Nations' people and the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission?

  •  

    Use resources to explore Canada’s residential schools from the mid-20th century. With a partner, discuss how an Aboriginal child who attended that school for several years might feel upon returning home.

  •  

    As you read, take note of the strong emotions Margaret feels at the beginning, the middle and the end of the story. Do they follow logically from the events of her life?

  •  

    Margaret’s father says: “More of them will be coming. Without learning their language and how to read and write it, we won’t survive.” In a short essay, explain the implications of that quote for all the individuals concerned.

  • To construct his/her identity
  • To exercise critical judgment
  • To use information
  • Citizenship and Community Life
  • Ethics and Religious Culture
  • Geography, History and Citizenship
  • Social Sciences