Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Shelf Life [kids]

When I Was Eight by Christy Jordan-Fenton and Margaret Pokiak-Fenton, 32 pages.
When Olemaun was eight, she decided that she wanted to learn how to read. To do so, she had to attend a mission school far from her Arctic home on Banks Island. She begged her father to send her to the “outsiders’ school”.  He was reluctant, but he finally agreed to let her go.
She soon discovered why her father had misgivings.
The nuns at the school cut off her lovely long hair. They took away her warm parka and other clothes, replacing them with a thin school tunic and scratchy underwear. They ignored her Inuit name, calling her “Margaret” instead, and they gave her endless chores as if she were a servant.
They were not interested in teaching Olemaun how to read, or even how to speak and understand English.
One nun in particular humiliated Olemaun regularly, and one dreadful night, she locked Olemaun in a cold, dark cellar alone for many hours.
The nuns’ callous and sometimes cruel treatment made her even more determined to read – and she did. Little by little, with persistence and determination, Olemaun learned how, and she was able to experience the power that we hold when we can read.
When I was Eight is the picture book version of Margaret Pokiak-Fenton’s true account of her experiences at residential school in her memoir, Fatty Legs.  (A sequel, A Stranger at Home, tells of Margaret’s experiences when she returned to her home.)  
Olemaun’s story is powerful and disturbing, and readers will admire her for her incredible spirit and courage.
Co-author Christy Jordan-Fenton is the daughter-in-law of Margaret Pokiak-Fenton.

** Recommended for ages 6 to 9 years.

Desmond and the Very Mean Word by Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Douglas Carlton Abrams, 32 pages.
The power of words is demonstrated again in a true story from the South African childhood of Desmond Tutu, Desmond and the Very Mean Word.
Words such as insults and racial slurs can hurt. They can also heal - as in the act of forgiving.
Desmond is happy and proud as he pedals his new bicycle through his neighbourhood.  Suddenly a group of boys shout a terrible word at him. Hurt, shocked and angry, he later speaks with kindly Father Trevor who advises him to forgive the boys.
However, the next day, Desmond finds that he can’t leave the mean word behind no matter how fast he pedals to school. It seems to follow him around “like a shadow in the hot sun.”
Later, riding past the boys, Desmond shouts an insult at them - and discovers that getting back with more mean words doesn’t make him feel any better.
A few days after that, Desmond sees one of the boys being bullied by his brothers. His anger changes to compassion and he forgives him. The two boys make peace. 
Although the mean word is never specified in this story, few children have not dealt with their own “mean word” and the hurt that it can bring. Father Trevor’s wise advice rings true – that the act of forgiveness can release that hurt.
Indeed, words have the power to incite hate – or to overcome hate.
This thoughtful story, with its expressive illustrations, teaches us that forgiving is a choice that everyone has the power to make. Forgiveness doesn’t need to depend on an apology.      
Archbishop Desmond Tutu, winner of the 1984 Nobel Peace Prize, was awarded the prestigious Templeton Prize this year for his “life-long work in advancing spiritual principles such as love and forgiveness which has helped to liberate people around the world.”

** Recommended for ages 6 to 10 years.

This review appears in The Stratford Gazette on May 16, 2013. Written by Sally Hengeveld, Librarian.

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