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When I Was Eight

4.20  ·  Rating details ·  592 ratings  ·  111 reviews
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 tenaci ...more
Hardcover, 32 pages
Published February 1st 2013 by Annick Press (first published January 29th 2013)
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Dave Schaafsma
The first of two picture book-version parts of the memoir Fatty Legs, tells of a First Nations girl who goes to a school to have her hair cut, her name change, her language taken away only to come home years later to a mother who said to her when she saw her, "Not My Girl," the title of the second book. This is a pretty grim, cruel story of a mean nun who appears to have it in for the young girl, but the girl persists and learns to read, so in the end it is pretty hopeful ...more
When I Was Eight is a picture book adaptation of the early/middle grade chapter book Fatty Legs, telling the true story of Olemaun (Margaret) Pokiak as she ventures into the dangerous territory of residential schools in northern Canada.

The overall story of what was told in Fatty Legs is the same here in When I Was Eight. The story has been made less frightening for younger readers. The illustrations are done by a different artist, creating images that are less chilling, and overall warmer. It st
Mar 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This WOW book is from the biography genre. I would use it in a 3rd grade classroom, where students are really beginning to learn how to read at a more advanced level. It is beautifully illustrated, and contains inspiring lessons and encouragements. It uses elementary level terms and dialogue, but depicts ideas that are mature and relatable for people of all ages.

One way in which I would use this book would be to teach the importance of learning to read and the powers that being able to read hold
Sep 26, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This story is a biography about (Olemaun) Margaret Pokiak-Fenton an inuit girl, when she was eight years old she begged her father to let her go to the outsiders school because she wanted to learn to read. The nuns at the school were very mean to her, cut her hair, made her do extra chores, gave her ugly clothes to wear, and wouldn't let her eat or learn with the other children. They also took away her inuit name. Regardless of all the challenges she faced, Margaret was determined to learn to re ...more
This is the story of eight year old Olemaun. She wants so desperately to go to the outsiders school and learn to read their language. When her father agrees to allow her to attend the outsiders school, she finds that she has to fight for the right to do so.

I have heard of many accounts of what it was like to be native and attend an Indian Residential School. This book does not shy away from some of the accounts that I have heard, such as cutting the hair and stripping them of their ancestral na
This copy kindly provided by NetGalley on behalf of the publisher

Too much going on in this one for my son, he's 4.5yo, better suited to children a bit older I think.

This girl has big dreams and in order to achieve them she needs to leave her family & go to school in a different community to her own. Here she is subjected to horrible conditions & treatment, before she teaches herself to read.

There are references to Alice in Wonderland that may not make sense to a child that doesn't know the
Nicole Doescher-Train
Sep 28, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I really enjoyed the book. The story details about a young girl who wants nothing more than to learn to read. The book goes through how this young girl overcomes adversity to be able to read one day. The story also gives readers some background on how many children who did not fit into America's society were forced to change. This is a book that students should read in order to learn about situations like these. The illustrations help to show the reader what is going on in the story. ...more
Ms. B
Nov 04, 2019 rated it liked it
This one broke my heart. It's a prequel to Not My Girl by the same authors. Mean nuns and chores at an Indian boarding school. (view spoiler)
Read this one to your children or students to build cultural awareness and empathy.
Mar 12, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Dark, cruel, and heartbreaking. An important story beautifully conveyed. Highly recommended for ages 7-9.
Nov 10, 2019 rated it really liked it
The story book version of Fatty Legs, this is gentler, but still with a good understanding of persistence and courage helping you through.
Nov 19, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Beautiful story of courage and overcoming injustice. This is the picture book version of Fatty Legs and now I definitely need to read that book!
Rachel Mantas
Nov 24, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: canadian, school
Exceptional. Should be read in classrooms across North America & the world for that matter.
Nov 03, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: elm-572
This book is a biography based on the true story of Margaret Pokiak-Fenton. It has some difficult words and phrases so it would be best suited for grades 3-5.

Olemaun is an eight year-old Inuit girl who wanted to be literate in English and attend school. However, she faces many challenges as she doesn’t have any English literacy foundation and is looked down-upon by both her classmates and her teacher. Despite all of these roadblocks, Olemaun learns to read and accomplishes her goals.

Patrick Resse
Nov 01, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: musso
When I Was Eight, written by Christy Jordan Fenton and Margaret Pokiak-Fenton and illustrated by Gabrielle Grimard, is a harrowing story of educational success despite the adversity that surrounded her. This book would be best for kids is grades kindergarten through first and does not have any awards even though it is surely deserving of one. The story starts with the Inuit girl Olemaun, who learned the ways of the Inuit with her family. Her sister constantly read to her, even though she despera ...more
Feb 14, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: pb-bio
I received an electronic ARC of this book from NetGalley.

This book is the story of Olemaun, an Inuit girl who is eight years old. She knows many things about her world - how to keep the sled dogs quiet, and that the "sun slept in the winter and woke in the summer." But she does not know how to read "the outsiders' books." Olemaun wants to go to school like her older sister. Although her father does not want her to go, Olemaun finally wears down her father and the next spring she stays at the sch
Jul 08, 2016 rated it it was ok
In an attempt to educate the reader about the abuses suffered by aboriginal children in the residential school system the authors have created a new form of discrimination. The nun in this story is illustrated and described to resemble a fairy-tale witch, even going so far as to cackle in the text. Several times the crucifix she wears is prominently displayed while doing something awful. This disrespectful representation of a religious group as a whole makes this a poor choice to use with studen ...more
Mar 08, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: picture-books
This is a lovely new picture book version of Fatty Legs that will share Olemaun’s story with younger readers than the original chapter book. It follows Olemaun from her time with her nomadic family through her attending the “outsider’s school.” There her hair is chopped short and her warm parka is replaced with thin and scratchy clothing. Her name is even changed to Margaret. Margaret wants most to learn to read, but the school is much more interested in getting the children to work hard rather ...more
Nov 22, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: picture-books
This is a story about one girl's experience at a residential school. A little heart wrenching to read, but also triumphant. ...more
Caryn Caldwell
Jul 26, 2013 rated it it was amazing
An autobiographical account of the author's childhood adapted for children from the book Fatty Legs. When Olemaun was eight, she convinced her father to let her leave their Inuit island and travel far away to the outsiders' school so she could learn to read. Victorious, Olemaun arrives at school ready to learn. Things are not easy for her, however. The nuns take away her native clothes, replacing them with an ill-fitting uniform. They rename her Margaret and order her to do chores. When she make ...more
Olemaun is eight when she convinces her father to send her to the outsiders’ school. What Olemaun wants more than anything is to be able to read like her older sister. Reluctantly, her family lets her go. Instead of the education she expects to receive, Olemaun is put to work doing physical labor with the other girls. One of the nuns is particularly cruel to her – at one point locking her in the cellar. Olemaun (now called “Margaret”) is able to overcome all of these obstacles and learn to read. ...more
Dec 29, 2015 rated it really liked it
This adaptation of Jordan-Fenton’s novel Fatty Legs is a semi-autobiographical account of the author’s experiences as a child in a residential school. Although made gentler for young audiences, Olemaun’s story is a deeply painful one – a story of separation, neglect, cultural destruction, and abuse, but it is also a story of strength, determination, and hope. In a particularly heartbreaking twist on the residential school story, Olemaun actually begs her father to allow her to go to the school, ...more
Nov 18, 2017 rated it really liked it
What an honor it was to hear Christy Jordan-Fenton and Margaret Pokiak-Fenton at a conference recently. Having read "Fatty Legs," I was curious to read the story adapted for younger children. How important that eight-year-olds can read what it was like for eight-year-old Margaret. ...more
Aileen Stewart
Jul 27, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This book made me stop and think about how important it is to appreciate the little things, especially when life is difficult. When I Was Eight is based on the true life experiences of Margaret Pokiak-Fenton, a small girl born in the arctic, whose only dream was to learn to read Alice In Wonderland like her older sister.

When she finally talks her father into letting her attend a catholic school in the town where they trade, she finds school daunting. One of the nuns cuts of her hair, changes her
Feb 07, 2013 rated it liked it
This is a good book to show that perseverance and determination pay off. Olemaun is just like many 8 year old kids, and wants what she wants right now. She doesn't listen to her father when he tries to disuade her, and eventually does get her wish to attend school and to learn how to read. But this school is not what she expected, she is not treated very nicely by the Nuns at this school. The treatment that Olemaun receives could very well frighten kids who have sensitive hearts. But in the end ...more
Jun 15, 2013 rated it really liked it
Young Olemaun knew a lot of things pertinent to her daily life in a frozen world. But she didn't know how to read and this one thing was her greatest desire. She wanted it so badly that she begged her father to send her to the Outsiders school. He knew it wasn't the best place for her but he finally gave in to her wishes and left her with the nuns. So many changes happened then, she lost her hair and her name to these strangers. She was worked to the bone doing every chore imaginable, but she ne ...more
Feb 23, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This seemingly simple work is complex in its beauty. Olemaun not only found her voice, she has given voice to an entire generation of children who were taken from their homes. When I Was Eight is a powerful book with stunning pictures. My favorite passage comes at the end, when Olemaun rises to meet the vindictive nun’s challenge.

“I felt a great happiness inside that I dared not show. I quietly took my seat. I was Olemaun, conqueror of evil, reader of books. I was a girl who traveled to a strang
Inuit girl Olemaun begs her father to allow her to attend the white man's school so she can learn to read in English, and despite his misgivings, he does so. Although she is excited, she loses many parts of her identity, including her hair, clothing, and name. The newly-christened Margaret struggles with the chores and being belittled by a teacher because she cannot read. After being punished severely, she draws strength from within and is finally able to read. The story and illustrations featur ...more
May 08, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2013
An Inspiring Historically Derived Picture Book

Beautifully illustrated.

I think this is a good book to share with children. First, it exposes them to the idea that education isn't a right, but a luxury. The hardship that Olemaun had to overcome in her desire to learn how to read is certainly inspiring. I certainly would not want to leave home at 8 to be mistreated why trying to get an education.

Also the book gives children insight into how Native American were treated in boarding schools. Forced t
Jennifer Heise
Feb 09, 2014 rated it really liked it
Heartrending story with beautiful illustrations and a clear depiction of a painful chapter in First Peoples history. Olemaun wants to learn to read, so she gets her parents to let her go to the outsiders' school. Once there, she finds out that the school is not what she expected. In addition to the petty humiliations of the Indian school regime, she must face up against a teaching nun who has it in for her and bullies her mercilessly. But due to her determination and bravery, Olemaun does learn ...more
Marlene Murphy
Olemaun's tale is that of a biographical nature that tells the story of a little girl who longs to learn to read. So much so that she embarks on a journey miles from home on foot to attend a school for girls where they are taught such things. Her name was changed, hair was cut and she was mocked by the head nun who does her best to cause "Margaret" to give up. As the story progresses, Olemaun teaches herself to read and demonstrates the thirst for knowledge knows no age limit and can empower eve ...more
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Christy Jordan-Fenton was born on a farm in rural Alberta. Her only dreams were to be a cowgirl, to dance with Gene Kelly and to write stories. As a youngster, she barrel-raced, rode on cattle drives, witnessed dozens of brandings, and often woke up on early spring mornings to find lambs, calves, and foals taking refuge in the bathroom.

Her parents divorced when she was seven, and she moved to town

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  Mahogany L. Browne is the author of Chlorine Sky, Woke: A Young Poets Call to Justice, Woke Baby, and Black Girl Magic. She's also the...
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