Fatty Legs – A Educational Must Read
Updated: Aug 12
There are novels that define generations of Canadian students. One such novel, is
Fatty Legs written by Christy Jordan-Fenton and Margaret Pokiak-Fenton and stunningly illustrated by Liz Amini-Holmes. As part of Truth and Reconciliation in Canada, it’s the responsibility of educators to address difficult topics such as residential schools, the intergenerational fall out from the residential schools, the Sixties Scoop, and systemic racism perpetrated by unfair laws. The gravity of it all can be overwhelming. But if every teacher in each grade does their bit, students will graduate with knowledge and understanding that generations before them may have been blind to.
There are many picture books these days that gently introduce the residential school topic to primary students. But a great beginner novel study is Fatty Legs which describes the experience of the author, Margret Pokiak, in a residential school in Aklavik, NWT. The sequel, A Stranger at Home, describes the difficult struggles the character, Margret, faced when returning home.
Save Fatty Legs for Mid-Year
Fatty Legs is a perfect novel study for Grade 4 and 5, but teachers of Grade 6 will still find success. The topic of residential schools coincides with Orange Shirt Day, on September 30, however, I would refrain from delving into this novel study until later in the year. There are excellent picture books geared for older students that are perfect for Orange Shirt Day. But having said that, the value of Fatty Legs should not be overlooked.
A Successful Approach to Fatty Legs
When creating a novel study for early intermediates, I like the independence of book circles, while maintaining aspects of guided reading. I am also cognizant that teachers are some of the busiest people I know and want to cover topics as important as reconciliation with meaning and purpose. With that in mind, I created a Fatty Legs unit; saving hours of prep, allowing teachers to connect with the students and content in a meaningful way.
Students go beyond basic comprehension using reading response booklets to guide their learning. They use reading strategies such as: connection, visualization, infer, question, summary, and transformation to develop a powerful understanding of the content. Recognizing that many schools may not have the funds to buy class sets of novels, the Fatty Legs unit is versatile and can be used with a single, real aloud novel. Finally, an answer key and assessment rubric is provided to help guide class discussions.
As a follow up to Fatty Legs, I created a second unit to support the sequel, A Stranger at Home, which explores the myriad of complex issues that occur as a result of a child having attended residential school. The Strange at Home unit follows many of the same task procedures found in Fatty Legs allowing students' familiarity to achieve greater success independently.
The success of Fatty Legs prompted an Ontario colleague, Jennifer Bernard, to inquire about translating it into French. A couple months later a supporting unit for, Les Bas du pensionnat, was created.
COVID 19 and Distance Learning
As a result of COVID-19 and online learning, the Fatty Legs unit, underwent an upgrade. I discovered that Epic! * an online reading website, had the Fatty Legs novel available.
I adapted the Fatty Legs student response booklet onto Google slides, reformatting and tweaking questions for online success. Teachers who use Google classrooms and Microsoft Teams (via PowerPoint), are now able to easily assign this as an online novel study.
*(see my other article: 5 ½ of my BEST online Distance Learning and Tips)