Logo Title Quebec Reading Connection

Fatty Legs: A True Story

Amini-Holmes, Liz (Illustrator)
Annick Press 2010. 106 pages
First published: 2010
ISBN: 9781554512461 (paperback)
9781554512478 (hardcover)
9781554515882 (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 – 2011

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:

This touching and gripping memoir tells the story of Olemaun Pokiak, a spirited young Inuvialuit girl who is determined to learn to read. Olemaun lives in the western Arctic and, every winter, “outsiders” come to the North to pluck Indigenous children from their families and take them to residential schools run by the Catholic clergy. Relentless in her pursuit to learn to read, she pressures her father to allow her to attend school.

Despite her father’s and sister’s warnings of cruelty, ridicule and loneliness, Olemaun’s determination and fascination with the outsiders’ school remains steadfast. Finally, her father acquiesces.

The narrator’s warm voice envelops the reader in the stinging story about the erasure of Aboriginal identity, language and culture, as well as the brutality these children experienced at the hands of the clergy. Olemaun is assigned a new name—Margaret. She is regularly subjected to harsh treatment by one particular nun whom she nicknames the Raven. This nun singles out Olemaun and gives her a pair of red stockings, inviting the ridicule of some classmates, who call her “Fatty Legs.”

Action verbs and imagery underscore her brutal experience: “That Raven swooped down and clutched my dress in her claw. ‘This is no place for a wilful child,’ she hissed.”

The book contains photographs from the author’s life with a complete photo gallery at the end. Powerful illustrations, in a dark palette with strong shadows, convey the emotional tension of the story.

In this story of resilience and courage, Margaret’s indomitable spirit would not be crushed by the Raven’s cruelty.

  •  

    How do your culture, surroundings and beliefs shape your understanding of the world?

  •  

    How are Olemaun’s family and your family the same and different? Complete a Venn diagram to compare the two.

  •  

    Olemaun’s name means “hard stone used to sharpen an elu.” Choose an object to represent yourself—one that reflects your personality traits. Explain your choice.

  •  

    Olemaun is curious about books and has a strong desire to learn to read. Think of a time when you were curious or driven to try or do something new. How did that curiosity impact you? Create a story map of that time and include the 5 W’s: who, what, when, where and why.

  •  

    As Olemaun’s parents, would you have let her go to the residential school? Why or why not? Recall a time when your parents permitted or forbade you to do something. In light of Olemaun’s story, do you have a different understanding of that decision? Write a letter to your parents explaining your feelings about their decision.

  •  

    Explore the map and the pictures in the book. Locate the area where the story takes place on a map of Canada. Discuss what you know about the people who lived there at the time of the story. Listen to selected background information about how children in that area went to school.

  •  

    Discuss how learning to read empowers a person. What other elements are empowering? Create a character map for Olemaun.

  •  

    Compare Oleamaun’s vision of the residential school before and after she attended it. What information from home helped her deal with the reality of the school?

  •  Compare and contrast Sister Raven and Sister MacQuillan.
  •  

    Choose a scene that you think is important and that illustrates how Olemaun was feeling. Discuss what happens and why you think it is important. What relevance does it have to the overall tone/mood of the story? Write a journal entry as Olemaun, exploring her feelings in that moment.

  •  

    Find out about residential schools and, in small groups, discuss why anyone might have wanted to attend one. Do those reasons outweigh the negative aspects of residential schooling?

  •  

    While reading, follow the prompts in the margins regarding the photos at the end of the book. How do they help you better paint a mental image of what is going on?

  •  

    Based on what happened to Margaret in the two years she attended the residential school, who do you believe was right: her parents for trying to convince her not to go, or Margaret, for insisting on going? Write a short opinion text explaining your position. Be sure to refer to the book for support.

  • To exercise critical judgment
  • To use information
  • Citizenship and Community Life
  • Ethics and Religious Culture
  • Geography, History and Citizenship
  • Social Sciences