July 1st marks Canada Day, a day of celebration for people across the country. I love my country and I am proud to call myself a Canadian, but our history is not without its dark and painful periods. There is no shame in accepting and recognizing the flaws and failures of your country – human beings are imperfect, so why should we expect a nation created by human beings to be anything else? The most important thing we can do is to learn from the past – to study and understand what happened and why, and to look at the ways in which the present and the future might have been impacted. If we don’t accept and learn from our past, how can we ever hope to create a better future?
Not My Girl is one of a number of Canadian picture books that tackles the impact of the Residential School system. You can read more about this tragic period in our history here. Margaret Pokiak-Fenton shares her experiences as a survivor of the system, bringing her own perspective as a member of an Inuit community in Canada’s remote far north.
When Olemaun was eight years old, she begged her parents to send her to a missionary school, where she dreamed she would learn to read and write. Her parents had their concerns, but eventually relented, and sent a thrilled Olemaun away to school. While she would learn to read and write, this knowledge came at a terrible cost. She experienced relentless mistreatment and abuse from bullying teachers and classmates at the school, and for two years her identity as Olemaun was suppressed, as she was given a new name, a new language and a new identity.
While Pokiak-Fenton’s first autobiographical story, When I was Eight, tells the story of Olemaun’s experiences at school, the sequel Not My Girl shares the heartbreaking experience of Olemaun, now called Margaret, as she attempts to reintegrate into her Inuit community. Unable to speak her native language, unfamiliar with her traditional customs and shunned by her closest family and friends, Margaret is left shattered and heartbroken. Even her own mother disowns her, saying simply, “not my girl”.
Though painful and harrowing, Margaret’s story is ultimately one of strength, resilience and community. Margaret’s father never gives up on her, and his quiet, patient love helps her family heal their wounds. With his gentle, unwavering support and guidance, and eventually her mother’s, Margaret relearns her traditional ways, and finds her way back into her community.
This is a beautiful, painful, but ultimately hopeful and inspiring testament to a family’s love for their child, and to the resilience and strength of Indigenous communities. Finding peace after trauma can be an arduous process, but there must always be hope.
Gabrielle Grimard’s illustrations beautifully complement the emotional text, creating an elegant, understated and powerful story.
Highly, highly recommended.
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Most Clicked Post from Last Time
Svenja takes “most-clicked” honors again this time with her post on 30 Multicultural Books about Immigration in honor of June as Immigrant Heritage Month. The post is divided into books geared for preschoolers and elementary students, and the elementary recommendations are further subdivided by the continent of origin. You can find more great posts by revisiting the previous linkup here.
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