Someone once told me “children hear best from other children.” That simple yet wise phrase has stayed with me. In fact, it’s why I love first-person, child narrated books so much. At the top of my LOVE LIST is When I was Eight. A picture book told from the point of view of Olemaun (she is aptly named after the stubborn stone that sharpens the ulu knife used by Inuit women.)
Focusing on the residential school experience from a child’s perspective, this beautifully illustrated book is a great resource for teachers and for parents. It brings to light not only the difficulties that First Nation children faced but it also illustrates the innate power of a child to overcome and excel because of a dream. Beautiful. Tragic. Heroic.
(From Jeanne McDermott Booklist 2013-04-30)
“In this picture-book memoir, an Inuit recollects how she begged her father to attend the church-run Indian residential school so she could fulfill her cherished dream to learn to read… What she discovers is the school is draconian… Olemaun describes how a nun cuts her braid, changes her name, and assigns an endless list of chores… Even as she labors, Olemaun finds strength in memories of her father’s love and uses every opportunity to study the alphabet and sound out words. Effective shadow-ridden illustrations capture the pervasive atmosphere of abuse, but the final picture speaks volumes about Olemaun’s determination and triumph: her face appears as large and shining as the sun emerging from darkness, because she has taught herself to read… A searing account of assimilation policies and a celebration of the human spirit.”