Skip to main content Skip to search Skip to search

Children's Nonfiction Native Canadian

When I Was Eight

illustrated by Gabrielle Grimard

by (author) Christy Jordan-Fenton & Margaret Pokiak-Fenton

Annick Press
Initial publish date
May 2017
Native Canadian
  • eBook

    Publish Date
    May 2017
    List Price
  • Hardback

    Publish Date
    Feb 2013
    List Price
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Feb 2013
    List Price
  • Downloadable audio file

    Publish Date
    Mar 2021
    List Price

Add it to your shelf

Where to buy it

Recommended Age, Grade, and Reading Levels

  • Age: 6 to 9
  • Grade: 1 to 4
  • Reading age: 6 to 9


Bestselling memoir Fatty Legs for younger readers.

Olemaun is eight and knows a lot of things. But she does not know how to read. Ignoring her father’s warnings, she travels far from her Arctic home to the outsiders’ school to learn.

The nuns at the school call her Margaret. They cut off her long hair and force her to do menial chores, but she remains undaunted. Her tenacity draws the attention of a black-cloaked nun who tries to break her spirit at every turn. But the young girl is more determined than ever to learn how to read.

Based on the true story of Margaret Pokiak-Fenton, and complemented by stunning illustrations, When I Was Eight makes the bestselling Fatty Legs accessible to younger readers. Now they, too, can meet this remarkable girl who reminds us what power we hold when we can read.

About the authors


GABRIELLE GRIMARD a illustré plus de 30 albums, dontLes mots volés, Quand j’avais huit ans, Fatima et les voleurs de clémentines, Aujourd'hui peut-être... et les livres de la série Petit Gnouf. Elle est aussi l'auteure-illustratrice de l'album Lila et la corneille. Gabrielle habite aux environs de Montréal.


From the time she was little GABRIELLE GRIMARD loved art, dismaying her elementary school teachers by constantly drawing in class. Later Gabrielle studied art in high school and university. After her son was born, she began illustrating children’s books and has now created more than 25, including When I Was Eight (Quand j'avais huit ans), Stolen Words (Les mots volés) and Not My Girl (Où est ma fille?). Lila and the Crow (Lila et la corneille) is the first book she both wrote and illustrated. She uses watercolours, gouache and oil to create images of amazing warmth and depth. Gabrielle lives near Montreal, QC. Visit her at

Gabrielle Grimard's profile page


Christy Jordan-Fenton vit à Fort St. John, en Colombie-Britannique, Margaret Pokiak-Fenton est sa belle-mère.


Christy Jordan-Fenton
has been an infantry soldier, a pipeline laborer, a survival instructor,
and a bare back bronco rider. Christy has also worked with street children.
She was born just outside Rimbey, Alberta, and has lived in Australia,
South Africa, and the United States. She now lives near Fort St. John,
British Columbia. Christy works with her mother in law, Margaret
Pokiak-Fenton, to write stories.


Christy Jordan-Fenton's profile page

MARGARET POKIAK-FENTON a passé son enfance sur l’Île Banks dans l’océan Arctique. Elle a écrit Étrangère chez moi, Les bas du pensionnat et Quand j’avais huit ans. Margaret est décédée en 2021.


MARGARET POKIAK-FENTON was an author, Inuvialiut knowledge keeper, and residential school survivor. Along with her daughter-in-law, she wrote Étrangère chez moi, Les bas du pensionnat, and Quand j'avais huit ans. The books have garnered more than twenty awards and distinctions, including being placed on the Canadian Children’s Book Centre’s Best Books for Kids & Teens list.

Margaret Pokiak-Fenton's profile page


  • Unknown, 2017 TD Summer Reading Club Recommended Reads List

Editorial Reviews

“An excellent book to start discussions and research about the effects of residential schools.” —Canadian Teacher, 02/01/17

Canadian Teacher

“… sheds a quiet yet powerful look at residential schools and the treatment of native children in the Americas.”—The Family-Ship Experience, 07/08/13

“This book is a small but powerful reminder of the freedom that literacy brings.”—School Library Journal, 05/13

“This excellent picture book … a powerful way to introduce the residential school experience to younger readers.” —Sal’s Fiction Addiction, 02/02/14

“A celebration of diversity, willpower and courage …”—, 05/19/13

“… its greatest potency lies in its representation of an indomitable child determined to read.”—Toronto Star, 04/12/13

“Utterly compelling.” —Kirkus Reviews, *starred review, 02/13

“… powerful and disturbing … readers will admire her for her incredible spirit and courage.—Exeter-Times Advocate, 05/16/13

“Olemaun is a great character and an excellent example for young readers to follow.”—CM Reviews, 06/13

“… a powerful story … ties in with antibullying themes …”—Resource Links, 06/13

“… an even more powerful read due to its emphasis on concise, affective text coupled with Gabrielle Grimard’s quietly unpretentious artwork.”—Canlit for Little Canadians, 04/28/13

“… a frightful but honest story about perseverance … Look for it. Order it. Share it.” —American Indians in Children’s Literature (AICL), 07/21/13

“A searing account of assimilation policies and a celebration of the human spirit.”—Booklist, 04/13

Librarian Reviews

When I Was Eight

Margaret is determined to learn how to read, but that means leaving her Arctic home for the outsiders' school. A version of Fatty Legs for younger readers.

Residential schooling is an important part of Canada’s history. This book makes it accessible for young students to learn about some of the history through the lens of a young Inuit girl, Margaret, who wants to go to school to learn how to read. Besides telling one story of learning to read, several themes can be found in this story: assimilation, using your voice, and standing your ground.

Also available: Not My Girl by Christy Jordan-Fenton & Margaret Pokiak-Fenton

Source: Association of Canadian Publishers. Top Grade Selection 2016.

When I Was Eight

In spite of her father’s warnings, eight-year-old Olemaun wants to learn to read which means attending a residential school. Renamed Margaret she remains feisty and stubborn attracting the negative attention of one of the nuns. In spite of insults, extra chores and frightening punishments, Margaret teaches herself to read and finally beats the nuns at their own game. This short picture book is an adaptation of the true story of Margaret Pokiak-Fenton. Previously published as Fatty Legs, When I Was Eight this book introduces Margaret’s story to younger readers. Charming colour illustrations enhance the text.

Source: The Association of Book Publishers of BC. Canadian Aboriginal Books for Schools. 2013-2014.

Other titles by Gabrielle Grimard

Other titles by Christy Jordan-Fenton

Other titles by Margaret Pokiak-Fenton

Related lists