Written by Christy Jordan-Fenton and Margaret Pokiak-Fenton with artwork by Liz Amini-Holmes
Published in 2010 by Annick Press
Fatty Legs tells the true story of Margaret Pokiak-Fenton’s experiences when she leaves her home in the High Arctic to attend a residential school.
Olemaun, as Margaret was known before she went to school, begs her father to let her attend school in Aklavik so she can learn to read like her older half-sister, Rosie. Finally, despite his misgivings, he relents when Olemaun is eight. Although Rosie has warned her, Margaret is shocked by the welcome she receives at the school: her hair is cut off, she must be called by her Christian name of Margaret, she is not allowed to wear the warm woolen stockings her mother has bought for her, and she gets in trouble for not understanding what she is told even though she cannot speak English. Margaret has come to the school to learn to read and is disappointed to discover that most of time is spent on chores.
Margaret’s teacher, whom she nicknames the Raven, is impatient with her, sometimes mocking her and most often giving her extra chores as punishment. Thankfully, Margaret’s friend Agnes is at the school to help her and occasionally Sister MacQuillen, known as the Swan, treats Margaret with kindness.
Margaret develops a plan—she will learn to read and then leave school when her parents return in the summer. When summer finally arrives, Margaret is devastated to receive a letter from her father explaining that they will be trading in Tuktoyaktuk instead of Aklavik that summer. She must remain at school for another year.
Margaret is excited to learn that the students will be writing letters to their parents. When the Raven dictates a letter for the girls to copy, Margaret ignores her wishes and writes to her parents complaining about the school and asking to come home. The Raven rips up her letter and punishes her. When students are invited to the local radio station to broadcast messages to their parents, Margaret remains silent rather than read the script provided.
The students are thrilled to receive new stockings. When the Raven gives Margaret a bright red pair, the other girls laugh and make fun of Margaret. They start calling her, “Fatty Legs” and Margaret knows she must take action. At the first opportunity, Margaret throws the red stockings in the laundry-room fire. The next morning, Margaret appears without her red stockings and the Raven demands to know where they are. Margaret refuses to answer and a search ensues. Finally, the Swan compliments Margaret on her bravery and gives her the key to the storage room so she can retrieve the stockings her mother had given her before she started school.
Thankfully, at the end of her second year at school, a letter arrives from Margaret’s parents requesting arrangements for her to be sent to meet them in Tuktoyaktuk. Before she leaves, the Swan gives Margaret a copy of Alices’s Adventures in Wonderland, which was the book Rosie had read to her before she started attending school herself.
When she is first reunited with her parents, Margaret’s mother does not recognize her and says she is an outsider. That night, Margaret is proud to read to her parents from her new book.
Eventually, the government makes school attendance a requirement for receiving child benefits and Margaret’s three younger sisters are sent to the school. Reluctantly, Margaret decides to go with them.
Introducing the Authors and Illustrator:
Visit Christy Jordan-Fenton’s author bio page.
Visit Margaret Pokiak-Fenton’ author bio page.
Learning More About the Book:
Learn about how the book, Fatty Legs, came to be.
Watch thebook trailer for Fatty Legs.
Developing Background Knowledge:
Educators who would like to know more about residential schools in Canada can start with these sources.
This Amnesty International interview with Christy Jordan-Fenton provides additional background into Margaret’s residential school experience.
Creating Connections Across Texts:
Explore other books related to Margaret’s story: