16 Apr / Not My Girl by Christy Jordan-Fenton and Margaret Pokiak-Fenton, illustrated by Gabrielle Grimard
Christy Jordan-Fenton and her mother-in-law Margaret Pokiak-Fenton began publishing stories in 2010 about the older Pokiak-Fenton’s difficult childhood as a young Inuit child growing up in Canada’s Northwest Territories. Their four books in four years are comprised of two titles for middle grade readers, Fatty Legs and A Stranger at Home, which were then adapted into two complementary picture books, When I Was Eight and this, Not My Girl, which debuted earlier this year.
Now 10 years old, Margaret finally returns to her family from the faraway “outsiders’ school” where “I had grown tall and very thin from two years of hard chores and poor meals.” Virtually unrecognizable, her mother’s reaction is wrenching: “‘Not my girl!’ she called in what little English she knew … everything she remembered of me” had been ‘educated’ out of young Margaret, including her native Inuit language, culture, and even her name.
“Olemaun,” her father reaches out to her: “I had not heard my Inuit name in so long I thought it might shatter like an eggshell with the weight of my father’s voice.” Tight in his embrace, her mother, too, finally reaches out and “sheltered me in that safe place between them.” In spite of their love and attention, Olemaun’s return to her family proves to be a difficult challenge: her stomach is unable to digest the family’s traditional foods, the sled dogs no longer recognize her scent, she only understands her father’s translations, and she has “lost the skills [she] needed to be useful … [to] help feed the family.” She’s even rejected by her only friend whose parents forbid her to play with another “outsider.” Slowly, Olemaun must find her place with her family once more, comforted by her favorite book and a helpless puppy.
Artist Gabrielle Grimard again illustrates the duo-generational collaboration; again, her open, nothing-hidden expressions enhance Olemaun’s experiences – her father’s gentle gaze, her disappointed worry over tangling the family fish net, her dare-to-be-hopeful glance as her mother guides her hands in using the traditional knife, her single tear that matches the single drop of rice water as she nurses her puppy. The trio again transforms painful, unfortunate memories into another enduring story of resilience, tenderness, and unconditional love.