Chapter Book Review: An Angel for Mariqua by Zetta Elliott

Angel for MariquaAn Angel for Mariqua by Zetta Elliott

From Goodreads: Christmas is coming, but eight-year-old Mariqua Thatcher isn’t looking forward to the holidays. Mama’s gone and Gramma doesn’t know what to do with her feisty granddaughter. Almost every day Mariqua gets into a fight at school, and no one seems to understand how she feels inside. But things start to change when a mysterious street vendor gives Mariqua a beautifully carved angel as a gift. 

I know I’m a little late in reviewing this as it’s a Christmas book, but don’t pass over this review just yet. An Angel for Mariqua needs to be on your shelves. Mariqua’s mother has been incarcerated for a drug offense and now Mariqua is living with her grandmother attending a new school. Grandma is kind, but also elderly and not well equipped to raise a child. At school Mariqua is teased by one boy in particular, but sometimes by others, for having a “jailbird” mother. All this makes Mariqua feel small and angry and she lashes out at her one friend, her grandmother, and her classmates. She’s not a bad kid by any means, but she’s struggling. Then a chance encounter with a street vendor who gifts her a brown-skinned angel and meeting an older girl from her building helps Mariqua begin to come to terms with the big changes she’s faced in her life.

This is such a beautiful story about a girl making friends and learning to find value and the good in herself. She comes to find joy in small things and small kindnesses, while also coming to accept her situation and the friendship people offer her. When she is befriended by Valina, Mariqua also learns to see that others are also struggling. Valina is a beautiful example of a friend who isn’t perfect (she has her own family struggles that prevent her from keeping all her promises), but sets such a good example for Mariqua of how to be gracious and graceful. I absolutely adore the friendship the two girls form. Valina has been where Mariqua is, as far as being angry at the world for unfair but uncontrollable circumstances, and she can offer so much support to Mariqua as she works her way through her loneliness and anger.

The reading level would be good for strong third graders, many/most fourth graders, and fifth grade readers based on the length and complexity of the text. But I read it aloud to my seven year old (second grade age) and she enjoyed it very much. I would put it in a transitional chapter book section in the library.

I would caution libraries and collections to ensure that they have other representations of black children and children of color. While the book doesn’t pander to stereotypes, it does have an incarcerated mother with drug charges and an absent black father. These are very real issues for some children of color, but it cannot be the only narrative in book collections about families of color. Still, this is an incredibly positive representation of the situation and Elliott is such a wonderful, deft, and sensitive writer that you can’t go wrong with having it on your shelf. Make it a part of your holiday collections, displays, and read alouds.

Final note: If you do purchase this book, please post a review of it on Amazon. This will help other folks find the book and know that it’s worth purchasing. If you use any other book services like GoodReads or your local library’s online catalog be sure to post a review there too! And if your local library doesn’t have a copy, request that they purchase one.

Middle Grade Review: Ma Llorona by Maya Gonzalez

Ma LloronaMa Llorona by Maya Gonzalez

From Goodreads: In times filled with terror and torment, one woman’s haunting grief rises from beyond to become the people’s howl in the dark. Sometimes a heartache is so great, it belongs to everyone. Sometimes a healing is so powerful it holds within it the spark to change everything….if we’re ready. A queer reclamation of the classic Mexican ghost story, La Llorona, spanning from MesoAmerica 1500 to present day San Francisco.

I have liked every book I have gotten my hands on from Reflection Press, but this one was just beautiful. I do not think I will be able to do it justice in describing and reviewing it, but here goes.

It’s definitely a ghost story, but not in the way I have typically thought of ghost stories. There is no creep factor, no horror (except for the horror of genocide which is touched on but not dwelt on and isn’t really the focus of the ghost part of this story), and it’s probably not the La Llorona you’ve heard of.

At its heart, Ma Llorona is a love story. Texocamiltic and Cualtzin live in pre-Columbian Mesoamerica where the two women fall in love and are planning a life together. But just as Cualtzin embarks on her last journey with her cohort of warriors, Texocamiltic is raped by a “pale man”, who the reader recognizes as the first wave of colonizers. In the absence of her Love and broken by the trauma, Texocamiltic transforms into Chocatiuh, a weeping woman, has twins and ultimately is drawn into the river with the babies where they all drown. Time passes and she returns as a blue light, tied to the river. Eventually she meets Cualtzin as an old woman who encourages her to explore the world using the rivers as passage. She spends the next centuries exploring, sleeping, and seeking out Cualtzin on the other side. Centuries later she meets a girl in San Francisco and her spirit helps Xochitl find her voice to help others still impacted by colonization and oppression.

While love is certainly a piece of this story, it is not the syrupy commercialized love we tend to think of or see portrayed in romance novels. This is a love across time, between women, but also between the universe, the land, and the people. People who were and are brutalized and marginalized. The love and love story do not end or even completely revolve around the self-absorbed love between to people infatuated with one another (not that Texocamiltic and Cualtzin are).

This book is perfect for showing readers that love doesn’t necessarily mean pining away for your soulmate or spending eternity lamenting the life you didn’t get together. It shows how many forms love can take and how true love between people can empower one person to go beyond themselves even when they are not physically alive. While Texocamiltic is heart broken over the loss of the life she thought she would have with Cualtzin, she doesn’t spend eternity mourning that. They do get a love scene, but it’s ancillary to the rest of the story of how they go into the world with their love for each other. The story also shows how folklore/mythology can be a powerful tool in activism. How it lends hope and light in dark times, brings comfort when things are bleak, and keeps community alive when white supremacy is trying to eradicate it.

Gonzalez is also clearly a poet as the language in the book is so poetically beautiful. She isn’t wordy, but you see the story, characters, and world so clearly through her use of language. The spare passages bring to mind such rich detail. It’s a book you will want to re-read passages from just to roll the words around in your mind feeling their textures and exploring their layers.

This is definitely a YA novel, but I do believe you could have it in a middle school library. Just know the story starts with an off-page rape followed by a suicide. I personally don’t have a problem talking about those things in age-appropriate terms with younger kids (my own, specifically), but your mileage may vary depending on your community. Don’t let the fear of parents or complaints deter you, but also know its in here. Do put this book on your shelves. Hand sell it to kids who like history, light romance, mythology/ghost stories, or are budding activists. It is also fairly short and a quick read so reluctant readers, who may struggle with mechanics, language, or have struggled to find themselves reflected in pages of books, will have no problem jumping in and connecting. Be sure to have copies in the classroom and on school library shelves. I would even suggest using this as a book to study in English class. Ditch one of those books written by a white man for this beautiful, rich ghosty-love story.

Final note: If you do purchase this book, please post a review of it on Amazon. This will help other folks find the book and know that it’s worth purchasing. If you use any other book services like GoodReads or your local library’s online catalog be sure to post a review there too! And if your local library doesn’t have a copy, request that they purchase one.


Chapter Book Review: The Ghosts in the Castle by Zetta Elliott

The Ghosts in the CastleThe Ghosts in the Castle by Zetta Elliott

From Goodreads: Zaria has dreamed of England for as long as she can remember—according to the novels she’s read, everything magical happens there! When her grandfather suffers a stroke, Zaria and her mother head to London to help care for him. Zaria reads fantastic tales to her grandfather every afternoon, and she’s thrilled to discover that her cousin Winston shares her love of wands, wizards, and mythical creatures. But Zaria soon finds that life in London is actually quite ordinary—until she goes on a day trip to nearby Windsor Castle. There Zaria meets two extraordinary ghosts who need help finding their way back to the African continent they once called home.

My daughter is loving this series so much. We quickly read through the first three books at bedtime and will be getting the fourth soon. This one was especially timely because we read it just at the time of the royal wedding (something we were not at all keeping up on, except that it was on the news) and I was able to point out the connection of Windsor Castle to her. It made finding pictures of it really easy.

That being said, this has nothing to do with a wedding or British royalty. Not really. I absolutely loved getting to meet Zaria, Tariq’s sister from the first book. She’s a really awesome kid and very kind. Zaria takes to her nerdy, smart, and slightly awkward cousin Winston and the two have an experience of a lifetime. The ghosts make this a great read for October, but the puzzle and history make it an interesting read for any time of the year.

I shouldn’t be, but I am always surprised at how well Elliott can jump between types of children’s literature. It’s certainly something other authors are not nearly so successful with. Here Elliott has written a chapter book that most fourth and even some third graders should be able to tackle. I recall the the first two books in the series being slightly easier and shorter than this one which is perfect. As kids improve through reading the series levels up with them. It also makes for a great read aloud (they all do, actually). The plot isn’t overly complicated and the books aren’t too long so it holds the interest and imagination of kids just learning to listen to chapter books.

I know kids love those Magic Tree House books, but they are awful- inaccurate history, THE WORST dialog ever, insipid characters. If you are looking for somewhere to start with read alouds for your kids or students this is a great series. You will enjoy them as much as your kids. They’re full of likable characters, interesting and important history, and magic. If you’re a librarian looking to add to your chapter book collection, please, please, please add these. It’s okay to have those tedious chapter books written for reading practice (although the inaccurate history is issue), but let’s diversify those shelves in terms of the representation AND the writing quality.

Final note: If you do purchase this book, please post a review of it on Amazon. This will help other folks find the book and know that it’s worth purchasing. If you use any other book services like GoodReads or your local library’s online catalog be sure to post a review there too! And if your local library doesn’t have a copy, request that they purchase one.


Middle Grade Review: The Vine Basket by Josanne La Valley

Vine BasketFrom Goodreads: Things aren’t looking good for fourteen-year-old Mehrigul. She yearns to be in school, but she’s needed on the family farm. The longer she’s out of school, the more likely it is that she’ll be sent off to a Chinese factory . . . perhaps never to return. Her only hope is an American woman who buys one of her decorative vine baskets for a staggering sum and says she will return in three weeks for more. Mehrigul must brave terrible storms, torn-up hands from working the fields, and her father’s scorn to get the baskets done. The stakes are high, and time is passing. A powerful intergenerational story of a strong, creative young artist in a cruelly oppressive society.

I previously wrote this about the book:

“This was an interesting one to compare to A Girl Called Problem as they were both written by people who were not from the culture they were writing about but had traveled to the region and were taken by the people. But the writing in this one was so polished. It was such a beautiful story that focused less on the historical event of what was going on, although it did emphasize the plight of the Uyghr people (I’m sure I spelled that incorrectly, but they are an ethnic group in Western China), and more on developing the characters, the relationships, the setting, and the story. It was a quiet story without a lot of dramatic plot points, but it was beautiful and hopeful.”

I have new thoughts about the book, but I want to first say that I’m rerunning this because China is currently cracking down on Uyghurs, sending them to “re-education camps” (sound like something the US and Canada did to the Indigenous people here?) and imprisoning them. They are even reaching out to Uyghurs living in different parts of the world including the US and threatening to do things to family still in China. It’s an ugly, ugly situation that is not getting enough media attention.

The Vine Basket is a very problematic book, but it’s also the only one I’m aware of that introduces kids to this minority. My recommendation is to educate yourself on the Uyghurs, their history and their current plight, and then read this book with your kids and use it as a tool to open up conversations.

To start with the good, this was a beautiful, quiet story. As I said before it really develops the characters and their relationships. You also get a good feel for the region the Uyghrs live in and a glimpse into their culture. The writing did a really good job of invoking the place where the story takes place and the author had visited so I get the sense that she drew on her experience there. I think that despite all the problems you can come away from the book with a feel for the Uyghurs homeland and a sympathy for the people. The other really key piece to notice here is the Mehrigul’s brother is said to be a part of the resistance to the Chinese government. We don’t really meet him in the book, but he comes up on several occasions. This opens up the conversation about how the Uyghurs are fighting for their rights and engaging in activism, meaning they aren’t passively needing white ladies to come save them *ahem*.

So this is certainly a hopeful story, but it’s also a story with a white savior. It doesn’t give all the power to the white woman who comes in and discovers the baskets as the story centers Mehrigul, but it’s a white savior nonetheless. I also don’t think it’s untrue that Mehrigul’s family might need to send her off to work in a factory to help them make money, but the framing around that sets it up so Mehrigul needs to seek help from the white lady who comes along. I also don’t know how accurate the relationships are within the context of the culture. Mehrigul’s father is not interested in supporting her making baskets to sell and isn’t particularly kind to her and that may be the lack of an #ownvoices story giving the relationship an outsider, Western view. I can’t say how the Uyghurs truly feel about girls, it’s entirely possible that there are father-daughter relationships like this, but it’s also equally easy to find those same relationships here in the US, so it’s hard to blame this distance and lack of support solely on the Uyghur culture. I also really despise that fact that the book description calls it a “cruelly oppressive culture”. That sounds like an outsider’s opinion and it sounds inappropriate given the source.

I don’t really think buying this book sends the right message, but if your library has it you should hand sell it to your activist parents noting the timeliness of the topic. If you’re a parent or classroom teacher, see if your library already has a copy and use that to discuss what’s currently happening around the Uyghurs now. Share the problems with this book while reading the story. Learn about the Uyghurs (from Uyghur sources and more open Western sources) and compare what you learn to what the story shows. Again, I’m recommending not buying the book, but using it to carefully bring attention and sympathy to what is shamefully happening right now.

If you want a book that is more #ownvoices (as much as book written from the perspective of a dog can be) and set in Western China, check out Black Flame which is an incredible book.

Middle Grade Review: A Boy Called Bat by Elana K. Arnold

Boy Called BatA Boy Called Bat written by Elana K. Arnold, pictures by Charles Santoso

From Goodreads: For Bixby Alexander Tam (nicknamed Bat), life tends to be full of surprises—some of them good, some not so good. Today, though, is a good-surprise day. Bat’s mom, a veterinarian, has brought home a baby skunk, which she needs to take care of until she can hand him over to a wild-animal shelter.
But the minute Bat meets the kit, he knows they belong together. And he’s got one month to show his mom that a baby skunk might just make a pretty terrific pet.

I actually think this one is on the cusp of middle grade and chapter book. It looked a lot longer than it actually was because it had large spacing between the lines and larger font size, but the content wasn’t predictable in the way that chapter books usually are. Which, of course, makes it a good fit for kids moving out of chapter books and into the regular middle grade section of the library.

The story itself will be familiar to nearly all kids. Bat wants to keep the animal his mom has found (it just so happens to be a skunk) and he needs to figure out how to convince her to let him keep it. The fact that Bat loves animals will also resonate with many readers. Bat is lucky enough to have a veterinarian for a mom and she is able to keep the skunk kit for a little while. Bat knows he’ll have an uphill battle getting his mom to come around to at least letting him raise the skunk until it’s ready for release back into the wild, let alone allowing him to keep it as a pet. The book moves not slowly, but it’s a slice-of-life type story so there aren’t any fast paced scenes or major excitement.

Bat’s sister gets a shout out (or call out) here. She has her moments of being a fine human being, but most of the time she was kind of a jerk. Maybe it’s her age? Maybe it’s because I’m an only child and don’t get the sibling dynamic? She’s just sort of an all around twit and she wasn’t overly kind to Bat. Sometimes she seems to barely tolerate him. I don’t expect her to be a saint, but on the other hand she was just a straight up mean. I suspect that family dynamic will resonate with a lot of readers, though.

It also bears mentioning that Bat’s parents are divorced. They don’t share equal custody, but Bat and his sister do spend a weekend with their dad. There isn’t any drama around the parents or the divorce or the custody. It was refreshing to see a split family like that in a book. At some point families do get on the with the business of living after a divorce and not all families have drama around new spouses or children (a common trope of divorced families I’ve noticed in children’s literature). As a kid from a divorced family I can say my own experience matched this much more closely than most depictions I have seen in kidlit.

Bat is supposed to be nonneurotypical. He isn’t great at reading social cues and facial expressions. He can be pretty literal and he stims sometimes. To me he outwardly seemed like a handful of nonneurotypical children I have worked with over the years. Does that mean he’s a perfect representation of someone who is? No. I felt like it was fairly nuanced, more so than other books I’ve read, but I don’t feel comfortable speaking directly to that representation. Especially since the book is narrated by and seen from the perspective of Bat. Certainly we need representation, but not at the expense of accurate representation. I can say it didn’t seem to veer into the inspiration porn kind of narrative that books like Wonder do.*

The story itself is a lot of fun and will be recognizable to many a pet-desperate kid, but if it doesn’t give a full and correct picture of autistic kids then it doesn’t matter how good the story is. I would cautiously recommend this to libraries.

*The blog Disability in Kidlit reviewed the book with an eye toward the representation of ASD. You can and should read that here.

Middle Grade Review: Bad Hair Day by Adrienne Vincent Sutton

Bad Hair DayBad Hair Day by Adrienne Vincent Sutton

From Goodreads: Gabby McGee is a 12-year-old girl trying to shed her “bad hair,” her parent’s strict rules, and her insecurities—all at the same time. If only she could change her hair from nappy, kinky, and unruly, to straight, long, and flowing, she could finally fit in. But she soon learns that going behind her mother’s back to get a chemical hair relaxer isn’t the way to do it. After a failed trip to the hair salon leaves her in debt, she devises a hair-brained scheme to pay it off, which involves her crush, a French kiss, and a bake-off. Is it just crazy enough to work? Is changing her hair really what she wants? Or, could the money troubles of a classmate at her snooty private school cause her to change her attitude instead?

So hair and hair angst is a theme I see a fair amount of in books written for black girls and it unfortunately stems from girls feeling a need to conform to white beauty standards. A lot of picture books tackling this issue work hard to show girls that their hair is fine exactly as it is. But that’s not going to work in a chapter book. It’s not nuanced enough.

Bad Hair Day was an incredibly fun read and added that nuance needed to flesh out a middle grade novel dealing with how girls feel about natural hair. I had a hard time putting it down as Gabby worked herself deeper and deeper into a silly, and poorly thought out, plan to straighten her hair. It rang so true for the shenanigans that middle schoolers get themselves into as they try to act more adult than they are.

I enjoyed reading a book that featured primarily black characters with a black girl as the main character that was funny, not tragic. While I think Gabby is clearly black, I also think we see stories like these featuring white girls all the time. As always, it’s refreshing to see black girls taking the lead in a light-hearted, fun read.

I do have two complaints about the book. There are a fair number of typos in it. They’re minor, but they’re there. The other is that, while I like the idea behind the design on the cover, the font in the hair is kind of hard to read which might deter readers who are choosing purely on seeing the cover. I think these are minor and shouldn’t deter you from putting this one on your shelves.

A final thoughts, before you write this off as a book for black girls only (I see you librarians and teachers out there skimming over on this review!), it’s not. Besides giving non-black girls a window into this particular issue their peers are struggling with, it also gives them a mirror. The beauty standard doesn’t fit most girls, black or not. And even girls who technically do fit the narrow standard often have a lot of hatred for their own hair and looks. Everyone will enjoy the book for its message of self acceptance and for the hilarity that ensues when Gabby makes a mistake and has to find a way out. Be sure to purchase this one for girls who like light reads about funny social situations.

Rerun: The Monkey King’s Daughter written by T. A. DeBonis

Monkey King's DaughterThe Monkey King’s Daughter written by T. A. DeBonis

From Goodreads: The Monkey King’s Daughter isn’t about Sun Wukong, the Monkey King – it’s about his daughter, Meilin. Only, Meilin doesn’t know she’s the Monkey King’s daughter. In fact, she doesn’t know she’s half-monkey at all. As far as Meilin knows, she’s an ordinary 14 year-old high school freshman from Midland Hills, California, facing all the problems that bright young girls face at that age- flakey girlfriends, zits, too much homework, bad hair, obnoxious boys… But all of that changes when her ancient past catches up with her. (And she thought high school was gonna be easy…)

Today I have another great self published series. I said in another recent review that I am getting rather tired of Greek mythology. Because of Percy Jackson it seems to be everywhere. As a kid I went through a phase where I was into Greek mythology and I still enjoy it, but there is a lot of really interesting mythology out there (I was always way more fascinated with Egyptian mythology) and I wish I had been able to discover it as a young reader. The Monkey King’s Daughter is based in Chinese stories of the Monkey King. If you’ve read Gene Luen Yang’s American Born Chinese you will be familiar with the myth this book draws on. Plenty of it is explained in the course of the story and will make sense to kids unfamiliar with it.

Despite Melin’s age and the fact that she’s in high school, the book is totally appropriate for upper elementary. It’s perfect for kids who like to age up. I would also highly recommend it for lower readers in middle school. The story is exciting enough, but the reading level isn’t particularly difficult.

The pacing was off in a few places. Most of the time the story plugged along, but there were a couple places where things happened a little quickly, felt rushed, and were glossed over. I think this has less to do with it being self published and more to do with the reading level it’s intended for. I don’t know exactly where it falls, but it’s a little more difficult than beginning chapter books, but not nearly as difficult as Percy Jackson (or as long).

My only other complaint is that when Meilin meets her father for the first time she isn’t awkward or angry or anything. She runs into his arms and they spend an evening star gazing together, enjoying each other’s company. I just had a hard time believing that a kid who hasn’t met her father would feel overwhelming love for a man who was never around. Will most kids care about this? The only kids who might are ones who have not met their fathers or who have experienced meeting them later in life. Does that make the book unworthy? I don’t think so. I doubt most kids who will tear through the adventure in this will mind that it isn’t totally authentic. Just be aware it may fall a little flat for some readers.

I really hope this story leads kids to the original Monkey King stories from the different parts of Asia. They’re very exciting and funny. Meilin takes some things in stride, but she was a very realistic kid. She didn’t suddenly become good at everything when she discovered her heritage and fell into her adventure. This is the first in a series and I’ll be buying the rest (I bought the first to try it out). It’s well worth having on our library shelves, particularly if you have kids who love mythology (we all have Riordan fans) and kids who like action.


Rerun: The Amazing Discoveries of Ibn Sina written by Fatima Sharafeddine

Ibn Sina

This one appears to have gone out of print or is at least not available through Amazon. If you wouls like a copy you can buy it here through Kitaab World. I highly recommend ordering through them anyways. They have an amazing selection of books dealing with Islam and South Asian culture. Again, I can’t recommend enough getting more books about Muslims into all parts of your collection. This is a particularly lovely biography with wonderful illustrations and good information.

The Amazing Discoveries of Ibn Sina written by Fatima Sharafeddine, illustrated by Intelaq Mohammed Ali

Form Goodreads: Born in Persia more than a thousand years ago, Ibn Sina was one of the greatest thinkers of his time — a philosopher, scientist and physician who made significant discoveries, especially in the field of medicine, and wrote more than one hundred books. As a child, Ibn Sina was extremely bright, a voracious reader who loved to learn and was fortunate to have the best teachers. He memorized the Qur’an by the age of ten and completed his medical studies at sixteen. He spent his life traveling, treating the sick, seeking knowledge through research, and writing about his discoveries. He came up with new theories in the fields of physics, chemistry, astronomy and education. His most famous work is The Canon of Medicine, a collection of books that were used for teaching in universities across the Islamic world and Europe for centuries.

So I wasn’t totally captivated by the text in this one. It was in first person which I understand brings the reader closer to the subject, but it also made for a few awkward places. In looking further at the book I discovered that it was originally published in Arabic, which might explain the awkwardness. Things lost in translation.

Otherwise, Ibn Sina made me feel totally inadequate. NBD. He just finished his medical studies at 16. I mean I know it wasn’t like medical school these days, but still. 16. Clearly the man was a genius. The story of his accomplishments was really fascinating. He did a lot and was very interested in life long learning. He studied philosophy, education and even advocated for what we might today consider respectful parenting and teaching.

I wish there had been a little more historical context. He moved around a lot as an adult, but there was only a brief mention that one of the cities he lived in was frequently fighting with another. I think kids in the US will not be particularly familiar with the geography or history of the area or era and need more information. But I also understand that it could potentially make the book unwieldy and boring. A longer more detailed author’s note might have sufficed. I did appreciate that Sharafeddine noted that Islamic contributions to the world are rarely taught in US schools and that was a driving factor in bringing out this book.

I really like the illustrations. They’re done on a speckled brownish paper that makes the colors pop and is different from the usual white paper. The lines are so soft and the shading is spectacular. Everyone has these huge half moon eyes that make them kind of darling and friendly. The illustrations were done in colored pencil and are so saturated and rich.

I’ll definitely be buying this as our budget allows this year. We need more Islamic biographies and I don’t think we have anything on the Islamic Golden Age. The illustrations will entice my students to pick it up. My complaints about the text aren’t significant enough for me to not purchase it.

Rerun: Fatty Legs written by Christy Jordan-Fenton and Margaret Pokiak-Fenton

A line of five girls wearing short-sleeved white shirts under knee length blue jumpers. They all have cropped black hair and wear black stockings and black shoes. The second from left girl wears red stockings that are baggy and sagging and has her arms crossed. There is snow falling and the ground is covered in snow. The title and authors' names are along the bottom.
Image description: A line of five girls wearing short-sleeved white shirts under knee length blue jumpers. They all have cropped black hair and wear black stockings and black shoes. The second from left girl wears red stockings that are baggy and sagging and has her arms crossed. There is snow falling and the ground is covered in snow. The title and authors’ names are along the bottom.

I bought Fatty Legs awhile back for the library and was able to hand sell it to several readers (and one parent looking for something that was #ownvoices and a historically accurate treatment of First Nations people. I didn’t get feedback from all the students who read it, but the ones I checked in with did enjoy the book (as much as you can enjoy a book about bullying and residential schools). I have edited the review below just a little bit because I think I see even more merit in this book than I originally did and I wanted the review to reflect that.

Fatty Legs: A True Story written by Christy Jordan-Fenton and Margaret Pokiak-Fenton, pictures by Liz Amini-Holmes

From Goodreads: The moving memoir of an Inuit girl who emerges from a residential school with her spirit intact.

Eight-year-old Margaret Pokiak has set her sights on learning to read, even though it means leaving her village in the high Arctic. Faced with unceasing pressure, her father finally agrees to let her make the five-day journey to attend school, but he warns Margaret of the terrors of residential schools.

I was pleasantly surprised by Fatty Legs. I expected a depressing book about the hardships of a boarding school meant to strip children of their language, culture and family. Certainly the school tried to do that. But they were in a for a run for their money with Margaret. She would not be dominated or crushed, although the two years she spent in school were damaging and depressing, it made her more determined.

I’m not opposed to sharing with children, even younger ones, the terrible things that have been done to native populations (North American and other places).  I also feel depressing and disheartening books have their merit. Fatty Legs shows the despicable nature of these boarding schools, but it gives kids get a strong girl to identify with and root for. Margaret’s ability to be upbeat while telling a story that is, at heart, difficult, unjust, and upsetting is felt like a good balance for the age group the book is aimed at.

I know plenty of Native American children know of the horrors of these boarding schools and it’s incredibly important that we share that and talk about it in hopes that it doesn’t happen again. And in hopes of creating a generation of people who are more tolerant and understanding. I know I’ve said this before, but children are incredibly attuned to injustice and, for most, it’s infuriating. Fatty Legs does an excellent job of showing the injustice that will make kids angry, but without going over the top and making it a book parents (especially white parents) will balk at. In other words, kids will get it. They’ll know what happened wasn’t right and they’ll start asking questions and opening conversations.

The book includes photographs at the back of Margaret, her family, and many of the places mentioned in the story. In the text there are small notes in the margins directing the readers to these pictures which I think is unintrusive while providing some really interesting context. I’m amazed that she seems to have so many photographs of these critical moments from the story! It’s incredibly fortunate. There are also definitions of unfamiliar words down at the bottom of the page , which again is unintrusive, but provides context for kids who don’t know the words. Plus, what kid uses a glossary? The words are right there on the page, no need to flip back and forth breaking your concentration and flow.

My only complaint about the book is the format. The full color pictures and larger size of the book make it feel younger. It’s certainly appropriate for fourth graders and would make a great class read in third grade, even a strong third grade reader could pick it up on their own. But fifth grade and sixth grade, who would also make a perfect audience, might shy away from it purely based on looks. It drives me crazy when publishers do that to good books.

Excellent book for reflecting the experiences of many Inuit families and opening up discussions with non-native children who are probably ignorant of what went on less than a century ago.