Don’t you hate when someone tells you that? You can’t go outside. You can’t have more candy. You can’t buy another toy. You’d really like that word to be erased from human language.
But what if someone told you “you can’t”… and you could? In the new book “When I Was Eight” by Christy Jordan-Fenton & Margaret Pokiak-Fenton, art by Gabrielle Grimard, a little girl learns that there are surprising things she can do.
More than anything in the world, Olemaun wanted to read.
Where she lived up north, it was very quiet. The sun didn’t shine all winter, and her family stayed mostly inside until the sun heated the Arctic Ocean and it was warm enough to cross the waters. Until then, Olemaun’s older sister, Rosie, read books while Olemaun dreamed and pleaded for school.
But the girls’ father said no. He didn’t want his younger daughter to go to school because he “knew things” about it. But Olemaun kept asking until finally, her father sadly took her to the outsider’s village and left her with the nuns.
Right away, very first thing, the nuns cut Olemaun’s long braids off. Then they took her warm clothes and gave her a school uniform that was itchy and didn’t fit quite right. They took her name away, telling her that she was Margaret now, then they made her do heavy chores from morning until night.
She still had a book of fairy tales that Rosie had given her. She loved it - but would she ever be able to read it?
It didn’t seem like that would ever happen. Every day, the nuns gave Margaret more chores to do. She cleaned and scrubbed and worked, and she also noticed that there were words everywhere. So Margaret tried to figure out words on labels. She looked closely at the blackboard as she cleaned it. She tried to make sense of words on posters and pictures on her way through the school. Even when she was frightened, Margaret remembered her words and they gave her comfort.
And then one day, the best, most surprising thing happened…
So you say you’ve got a young historian in your house, one who loves biographies, too? “When I Was Eight” might fill the bill, except for one thing: it’s awfully scary.
To create this true memoir, authors Christy Jordan-Fenton & Margaret Pokiak-Fenton took their 2010 book, “Fatty Legs,” and revised it to make it more accessible for younger readers. And that’d be great, if not for this book’s sense of abandonment, the cruelty described, or the downright terrifying locked-in-a-dark-basement part. Those elements moved the story along well for kids 10-and-up (in “Fatty Legs”), but I think they’re nightmare-causing stuff for smaller children.
If your 5-to-8-year-old can handle a memoir like this, I think you may be better-off reading aloud the original chapter book, which is curiously less scary. Don’t get me wrong: “When I Was Eight” isn’t a bad book, if you can get past the frightening parts – but I just can’t.