When I Was Eight is the true story of Olemaun, a girl from the Arctic, who knew many things such as how to manage sled dogs, how to hunt, and how to trade with the outsiders. Olemaun longed to learn to read outsiders’ books like her older sister. She begged her father to allow her to attend an outsiders’ school which he did not want her to attend. After a day of trading, Olemaun’s father reluctantly agreed to let Olemaun stay at the school. At the school, a nun cut Olemaun’s hair and changed her name to Margaret. Life would be very different at the school than from life at home in the Arctic. Through Olemaun’s strength and determination, she learns to read. This story is based on Margaret Pokiak-Fenton’s experience at a residential school.
Curriculum Connections: When I Was Eight would be an excellent book to start discussions and research about the effects of residential schools on Aboriginal families and communities. Character analysis activities could be used to explore the character’s qualities and experiences throughout the story. Since this book is an adaption of Fatty Legs some students may wish to read the novel to learn more about Olemaun’s story.
Review by Cindy Haack