Diverse Kid Lit – July 2, 2016

Not My Girl

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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Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday – 11/3/2015

nonfictionNonfiction Picture Book Challenge 2015 is a weekly celebration of imaginative children’s nonfiction materials hosted by Kid Lit Frenzy.

I missed Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday last week, and I missed it terribly, so I made sure to block aside some time for my favourite post of the week!


Title: Eye to Eye: How Animals See The World
Author/Illustrator: Steve Jenkins
Publisher: HMH Books for Young Reader
Publication Date: 2012
Genre/Format: Nonfiction/Picture Book 
Publisher’s SummaryIn his latest eye-popping work of picture book nonfiction, the Caldecott Honor–winning author-illustrator Steve Jenkins explains how for most animals, eyes are the most important source of information about the world in a biological sense. The simplest eyes—clusters of light-sensitive cells—appeared more than one billion years ago, and provided a big survival advantage to the first creatures that had them. Since then, animals have evolved an amazing variety of eyes, along with often surprising ways to use them.

My Two CentsI don’t think it’ll surprise anyone when I say that I really enjoyed this book! I love Steve Jenkins – his nonfiction picture books are consistently impressive. This one, all about the anatomy of animal eyes, is indeed eye-popping (ha ha..), thanks to Jenkins’ signature blend of paper cut illustrations and engaging facts. The natural world is just so breathtaking, and I think nonfiction picture books like this work so well because they seem to share and indeed validate children’s natural curiosity and sense of wonder. There’s also a bit of a gross factor via the illustrations of the inner workings of animal eyes, which is always a kid pleaser. 🙂

Side note: There’s a brilliant adult nonfiction book that touches on evolution, including the evolution of the eye across different species: You Inner Fish by Neil Shubin.


Title: When I Was Eight
Author: Christy Jordan-Fenton, Margaret Pokiak-Fenton

Illustrator: Gabrielle Grimard
Publisher: Annick Press
Publication Date: 2013
Genre/Format: Nonfiction/Picture Book 
Publisher’s SummaryNothing will stop a strong-minded young Inuit girl from learning how to read. Olemaun is eight and knows a lot of things. But she does not know how to read. She must travel to the outsiders’ school to learn, ignoring her father’s warning of what will happen there.The nuns at the school take her Inuit name and call her Margaret. They cut off her long hair and force her to do chores. She has only one thing left — a book about a girl named Alice, who falls down a rabbit hole. Margaret’s tenacious character draws the attention of a black-cloaked nun who tries to break her spirit at every turn. But she is more determined than ever to read. By the end, Margaret knows that, like Alice, she has traveled to a faraway land and stood against a tyrant, proving herself to be brave and clever. Based on the true story of Margaret Pokiak-Fenton, and complemented by stunning illustrations, When I Was Eight makes the bestselling Fatty Legs accessible to young children. Now they, too, can meet this remarkable girl who reminds us what power we hold when we can read.

My Two Cents: 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, believing that the “outsiders” will teach her to read. Instead she faces an almost unending series of attacks, both physical and psychological, not only from the nuns running the school but from the other students, as well. It takes all of Olemaun’s inner strength not to lose her sense of self or her dream or reading. When I Was Eight is an important story, beautifully presented, that should be shared with children in a supportive environment- children will likely have questions about Olemaun and her experiences, and this information needs to be shared in a sensitive and respectful way. This would be perfect as part of Canadian history studies or a unit on residential schools or Aboriginal history. Beautiful, and highly recommended.