Summary: This is the story of eight-year-old Margaret Pokiak who lives in the Arctic. She wants to go to school so that she can learn to read, just like her older sister. Her family does not want Margaret to go to school because they had very negatives experiences there. Margaret is persistent and her family reluctantly sends her to the residential school, where she encounters the black-cloaked nun nicknamed the Raven, who immediately dislikes strong-willed young Margaret. Intending to humiliate her, the heartless nun gives gray stockings to all the girls except Margaret, who gets red ones. Margaret becomes the laughingstock of the entire school. In the face of such cruelty, Margaret refuses to be intimidated and bravely gets rid of the stockings. This is the true story of how one brave girl survived the residential school system.
Grades 4 to 7
Authors: Christy Jordan – Fenton and Margaret-Olemaun Pokiak–Fenton. Christy lives in BC with her family. She loves to write, travel, and dance. Margaret and Christy are best friends and have had many adventures together. Margaret has been the subject of four award winning children’s books about her time at residential school in the 1940s.
Illustrator: Liz Amini-Holmes is the illustrator of many books including A Stranger at Home, Chester Nez and the Unbreakable Code, Miracle and The Fantastical Children of Pond Kingdom. Her illustrations are often chosen to depict social advocacy, multicultural awareness, and folklore. Liz lives in California with her family and pets.
Connection to the WITS LEADerS: Look and Listen, Explore Points of View, Act,
Did it Work
- Look at the book cover of Fatty Legs and describe what you see, and what impression do you get from the cover.
- What do you think this book is about?
- Why do you think this book is titled Fatty Legs?
- How do you think these girls feel and what are some the challenges that lie ahead for them?
1. Does anyone know what a residential school is?
2. What does the word assimilate mean?
(answer: to take something in and make it part of the thing it has joined)
3. Do you know what the word Indigenous means?
Key Facts About Residential Schools
|What were residential schools?||Residential schools were government-funded schools run by churches.|
|What was the purpose of residential schools?||The purpose of residential schools was to educate and convert Indigenous youth and to assimilate them into Canadian society. In the assimilation process the Indigenous youth loses their original culture.|
|How many students attended residential schools? |
What does the word Indigenous mean?
|An estimated 150,000 children attended residential schools in Canada (ran from 1831 – 1996). |
Indigenous means the first people who lived in a particular place. Indigenous people can also be described as native peoples, or first nations.
- Why does Olemaun-Margaret want to go to school?
- Why was her family hesitant to let her go to school?
- What did the nuns at the residential school do to Olemaun-Margaret’s hair when she arrived at the school? Why did they do this?
- How do you think Olemaun-Margaret felt about having to wear the new school uniform?
- At the residential school one nun was mean to Olemaun-Margaret, what kind of bird did she look like? Another nun was kind to Olemaun-Margaret, what kind of bird did she look like?
- Instead of learning how to read what did the nuns have Olemaun-Margaret do at the residential school?
- Why was Olemaun-Margaret given red stockings and how did the other girls react?
- How did Olemaun-Margaret get even with the Raven for giving her red stockings? What lesson did Olemaun-Margaret teach the Raven?
- Have students talk about their feelings about the first day of school and a time when they were courageous/brave. In the story Olemaun-Margaret had to live in the residential school away from her family for two years. How would you feel about being away from your family for so long?
- In the beginning of the book Olemaun-Margaret said that she thought Alice was brave to chase the rabbit out of curiosity. Do you think Margaret was brave? Explain. What makes someone courageous/brave? Do you know anyone that is courageous/brave (e.g. family members, friends, sports figures, someone famous, etc.)? What about them do you like? Make a poster of this person and list some of the reasons you choose this person.
- After reading Fatty Legs write in your student journal about the importance of culture. Questions to think about: What is culture? Why do you think cultural diversity is important? Why it is important to maintain your cultural identity (e.g. learn a traditional language, eat traditional foods, learn traditional stories and legends, learn traditional games, music and dances?)
- In the novel Fatty Legs Olemaun-Margaret went to the residential school because she wanted to learn how to read and to get an education. What do you think she really learned in this story? Explain your answers.
Do you live near a residential school?
Many Canadians aren’t aware that residential schools may have existed near them. There were over 130 residential schools in operation between the 1870s and 1996. CBC has created an interactive map of the schools that operated across Canada.
- Find the residential school that operated nearest you
- Go to Did you live near a residential school? (cbc.ca)
The Inuktitut Language
The language spoken by the Inuit is called Inuktitut. It is a very ancient language. Qallupilluit is pronounced “ka-loo-pee-loo-eet”. Inuit is pronounced “ee-noo-eet” and Allashua is pronounced “a-lo-soo-ak”. In English, not all words necessarily sound the way they are spelled. Can you think of some English words like this?
Inuktitut has only three vowel sounds: “aa”, “ee”, “oo”
What are the vowel sounds in English?
Some words we use in English are taken directly from Inuktitut, like parka, moccasin, mukluk and anorak. Can you think of any others? Make a list of such words and their meanings. In Inuktitut, there are about fifty different words for snow because the Inuit can identify around fifty different kinds of snow. They have one word for powdery snow, one for wet-packing snow and another for grainy snow in the Spring.