Logo Title Quebec Reading Connection

When I Was Eight

Grimard, Gabrielle (Illustrator)
Annick Press 2013. 32 pages
First published: 2013
ISBN: 9781554514915 (hardcover)
9781554514908 (paperback)
Original language: English
Dewey: 371
Book type: Picture Book

Text Elements:

character, point of view

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:

Olemaun is a little girl whose name means ‘stubborn stone.’ She helps her father with the sled dogs when he hunts, and when the ice melts on the Arctic Ocean, she and her family trade furs with the outsiders. But Olemaun wants to read books, so she must go to the nuns’ school—away from her family.

Warm tones and densely coloured, soft-edged forms richly illustrate the furs and bright snow of Olemaun’s Inuit life. In contrast is the black of the cruel nun’s habit, and the darkness of the school basement. The language in the story is direct and potent: “We washed walls and dishes and laundry, and then we went to church and kneeled on our already aching knees to clean our souls.”

School is harsh: Olemaun’s name is changed; her braids are cut; her language is forbidden. This important story about the horrors of Aboriginal residential schooling in Canada is portrayed with an appropriate level of information for children and provides an opportunity to discuss what makes a good school.

In the dark, Olemaun finds her strength, and carves a place for herself in this hostile new world. She may have been acting like a stubborn stone when she insisted her father bring her to the residential school, but that same quality serves her once she is there.

  •  

    Before reading, research the residential schools in Canada. Why were they established and what were they like? When did the students see their parents?

  •  

    Why was Olemaunso determined to go to school? How did she learn to read? Why does she compare herself to Alice in Wonderland? What do you think she will do now that she can read?

  •  

    Write a letter from Olemaun to her father talking about life at school. What will she tell him, and why?

  •  

    Knowing this is a memoir, prepare an interview with the author. What questions would you ask that are not already answered in the text or illustrations?

  •  

    Before reading, research the residential schools in Canada. Why were they established and what were they like? When did the students see their parents? 

  •  

    Make a Venn diagram to compare life at your school with life at Olemaun’s school.

  •  

    Why did Olemaun want to go to school? How was she treated? How did she learn to read? Why does she compare herself to Alice in Wonderland? What do you think she will do now that she can read?

  •  

    Make a class list of adjectives from the story that describe Olemaun’s personality. Use resources to look up unfamiliar words.

  •  

    Write a letter from Olemaun to her father describing her life at school and how she is learning to read.

  • To construct his/her identity
  • To exercise critical judgment
  • Citizenship and Community Life
  • Health and Well-Being
  • Ethics and Religious Culture
  • Geography, History and Citizenship