Beauty from Ashes

When I Was Eight

Prejudice. Oppression. Abuse. Throughout history, harm has been done in the name of justice. But usually there is no justice. Only revenge.

Literature for children and young adults portrays these stories of pain and suffering. Reading them can help build understanding and compassion, but it can also lead to discouragement. What hope is there in this inhumane world?

Some stories show the possibility of a better world. And they offer this hope not by denying the reality of evil but by creating a powerful beauty. When I Was Eight, a picture book by Christy Jordan-Fenton and Margaret Pokiak-Fenton and illustrated by Gabrielle Grimard, tells a haunting story of racism against Inuit children in Canada’s residential schools. And yet the mood is not dark. Instead, the determination of the main character, Olemaun, and the rhythm of the writing combine to create a sense of hope that takes this story far behind the usual accounts of injustice in this world. 

Read this story aloud, even if you are by yourself.  Use it as a pattern for writing your own story.  Or use it to teach creative writing.  When I Was Eight is highly recommended for all readers, and listeners, eight-years-old and up.

Jordan-Fenton, Christy. When I Was Eight. Toronto: Annick Press, 2013.

More stories about aboriginal people of North America: HERE.

More stories about abuse: HERE.

More stories about the power of reading: HERE.

“By teaching us how to read, they had taught us how to get away.” Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O’Brien (New York: Aladdin Paperbacks, 1986, c1971).

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