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Fatty Legs: True Story

by Christy Jordan-Fenton and Margaret Pokiak-Fenton; Liz Amini-Holmes, illus.

In Fatty Legs, Margaret Pokiak-Fenton and Christy Jordan-Fenton (Margaret’s ­daughter-­in-law) present a memoir of young Margaret’s experiences at a northern residential school. Though the book’s dedication page suggests that her experiences were deeply traumatic, that is not really reflected in this gentle, positive story.

Taunted and humiliated by Raven, the unkind nun in charge of the young girls, Margaret is willing to endure almost anything as long as she can learn to read. The unpleasant chores don’t daunt her, but the teasing of other students and the unfair punishments do. When she is the only girl forced to wear ugly red stockings, however, Margaret has had enough, and fights back.

This classic battle between bully and the bullied is told through Margaret’s eyes, but it is sometimes difficult to discern whether the child or the reminiscing adult is the one speaking. An incident in which Margaret accidentally uses shaving cream instead of toothpaste is told from the baffled child’s point of view. But later, she refers to the government program that paid the nuns on a per-student basis – surely something only the adult Margaret would know.

The authors write in easy-to-read language rich with metaphor. Raven nibbles on her “claw” and turns “red as seal’s blood on snow” when Margaret finally triumphs in their battle of wills. A kind nun, Swan, glides in and out of Margaret’s life, bringing help and understanding.

Arresting illustrations by Liz Amini-Holmes appear throughout, as do a series of Margaret’s photographs in a scrapbook section. The marginal notes, footnotes, and closing chapter about residential schools might give the impression that this is a textbook, which highlights the authors’ difficulty in balancing education and entertainment.

Overall, Fatty Legs presents a unique and enlightening glimpse into the residential school experience and, most importantly, one little girl’s triumph over her oppressors.


Reviewer: Jean Mills

Publisher: Annick Press


Price: $21.95

Page Count: 112 pp

Format: Cloth

ISBN: 978-1-55451-247-8

Released: Sept.

Issue Date: 2010-11


Age Range: 9-12