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The Birchbark House by Louise Erdrich
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This is a lovely book to keep in mind for readers and needs of all sorts- for elementary students needing to do book reports, for fans of historical fiction, for parents looking for family read-alouds. Erdrich doesn't shy away from the occasional very difficult parts of life, and does show the devastating effect that new diseases had on the Ojibwe, but she also shows a strong, supportive family. The end of the book includes a glossary for the Ojibwe words used throughout. ( )
  kahansen | Jan 27, 2014 |
I originally read The Birchbark House - Anishinaabe (Ojibwa) author Louise Erdrich's first foray into the world of children's fiction - when it was just published in 1999, but had been meaning to reread it for some time, in order to move on to the sequels (The Game of Silence and The Porcupine Year), when it was chosen as our September selection over in the Children's Fiction Club to which I belong. How glad I am that it was, as I enjoyed this reading just as much as the first!

The story of Omakayas (meaning "little frog"), a young Ojibwa girl growing up on an island in Lake Superior during the nineteenth century, it feels utterly authentic, offering a convincing portrait of Ojibwa life at that time and place. The central importance of food gathering, in the lives of Omakayas and her family, the seasonal move between their house in the settlement (used during winter) and their birchbark house (in summer), the growing pressure of incoming white settlers, forcing the Ojibwa ever further west, are all apparent. So too, tragically, is another consequence of white encroachment: the spread of disease to native populations, whose lack of immunity proved so disastrous. This last theme is particularly important, both in setting up Omakayas' story, and in providing one of the central challenges she faces: how to cope with the terrible loss of a loved one.

The Birchbark House isn't just a convincing work of historical fiction, however, but an engaging tale of a girl whose feelings and experiences - though tied in to specific time, place and culture - can be appreciated by readers of all kinds. Any child with a sibling will empathize with Omakayas' frustration with her younger brother, Pinch, or her simultaneous admiration and resentment of her beautiful older sister, Angeline. Similarly, many readers will identify with her searching after meaning and purpose, which eventually leads her - via some very satisfying scenes with some bears - to the realization that she is called to be a healer.

Erdrich's prose draws me in, as do her lovely illustrations (I hadn't even realized, before reading this, that she was an artist, as well as an author!), and the complete experience of The Birchbark House is one of intellectual engagement and emotional satisfaction. I loved the characters, both human and animal (particularly Omakayas' crow, Andeg), and found the story immensely involving. The conclusion, in which Omakayas finds some resolution of her grief, was very moving. Highly recommended, to young readers who enjoy historical fiction, or to Erdrich fans in general. ( )
  AbigailAdams26 | Apr 23, 2013 |
I enjoyed this book very much. The explorations of the Ojibwa culture were interesting and absorbing. The smallpox was so hard to read about. (Is that a spoiler? Maybe.) The nearness to the bone of their lives cheek by jowl with their insistence that the soul of the people is made of laughter was incredibly poignant. More than once I thought, 'yeah, well, take THAT, Laura Ingalls' but no doubt that's only mean-spiritedness on my part. I did love Laura, but I think I'd rather have had Omakayas to grow up with.

I found an Ojibwa word in this book that I love with all my heart: manidominenz (mah-nih-DOH-min-eynz), which means tiny beads- but literally means "little spirit seeds". If I ever open a bead store, that's the name of it.

The illustrations were the weakest link, I thought. Again, I found myself thinking of Laura Ingalls and those wonderful Garth Williams illustrations- which added so much to my enjoyment of Laura's opposite side of this tale. ( )
  satyridae | Apr 5, 2013 |
I think this book is perfect to help my nieces value the earth and learn about the Native American way of life which teaches so much respect for everyone and everything around us. ( )
  E.J | Apr 3, 2013 |
The Birchbark House takes us through a year in the life of 8-year-old Omakayas of the Ojibwa, or Anishinabe. It's 1847 and, while the chimookomanug (white men) are there on the outskirts of life, Omakayas' family has been able to keep their home and way of life - despite much talk of possibly moving west. The family lives in tune with the seasons and nature, particularly Omakayas who seems to have a special connection to animals. Just like most little girls, Omakayas finds her little brother annoying, worships and envies her older sister, and adores the baby. Summer and fall follow along like every year with chores and celebrations, but it is during the long, hard winter that tragedy strikes and Omakayas will have to learn whether or not she has the strength to save her family - and if she has the strength to save herself. If you like the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder, read The Birchbark House, and its sequels The Game of Silence and The Porcupine Year, for a glimpse of how just one Native American family of the same time period might have lived.

My understanding is that Louise Erdrich set out to write this series as a response to the terrible way in which Native Americans were portrayed in the Little House books by Wilder. Knowing this makes reading The Birchbark House even more fascinating. Just like the maple sugar section of Little House in the Big Woods there's a maple sugaring chapter here. Just as the Ingalls family travels to see relatives and have a party, Omakayas' family travels to see their relatives for ricing time and to have a party. Just as the Ingalls family has encounters with wildlife including bears, Omakayas encounters lots of wildlife - including bears. However this has harder themes than the first Little House book does with small pox visiting Omakayas' family and friends and claiming lives. The section following the death of Omakayas' littlest brother is a very realistic portrait of how a family might react to the death of a child and the pain they would feel. August 2009 Cover to Cover selection. ( )
  JenJ. | Mar 31, 2013 |
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0786814543, Paperback)

Nineteenth-century American pioneer life was introduced to thousands of young readers by Laura Ingalls Wilder's beloved Little House books. With The Birchbark House, award-winning author Louise Erdrich's first novel for young readers, this same slice of history is seen through the eyes of the spirited, 7-year-old Ojibwa girl Omakayas, or Little Frog, so named because her first step was a hop. The sole survivor of a smallpox epidemic on Spirit Island, Omakayas, then only a baby girl, was rescued by a fearless woman named Tallow and welcomed into an Ojibwa family on Lake Superior's Madeline Island, the Island of the Golden-Breasted Woodpecker. We follow Omakayas and her adopted family through a cycle of four seasons in 1847, including the winter, when a historically documented outbreak of smallpox overtook the island.

Readers will be riveted by the daily life of this Native American family, in which tanning moose hides, picking berries, and scaring crows from the cornfield are as commonplace as encounters with bear cubs and fireside ghost stories. Erdrich--a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Ojibwa--spoke to Ojibwa elders about the spirit and significance of Madeline Island, read letters from travelers, and even spent time with her own children on the island, observing their reactions to woods, stones, crayfish, bear, and deer. The author's softly hewn pencil drawings infuse life and authenticity to her poetic, exquisitely wrought narrative. Omakayas is an intense, strong, likable character to whom young readers will fully relate--from her mixed emotions about her siblings, to her discovery of her unique talents, to her devotion to her pet crow Andeg, to her budding understanding of death, life, and her role in the natural world. We look forward to reading more about this brave, intuitive girl--and wholeheartedly welcome Erdrich's future series to the canon of children's classics. (Ages 9 and older) --Karin Snelson

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:40:17 -0400)

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Omakayas, a seven-year-old Native American girl of the Ojibwa tribe, lives through the joys of summer and the perils of winter on an island in Lake Superior in 1847. For as long as Omakayas can remember, she and her family have lived on the land her people call the Island of the Golden-Breasted Woodpecker. Although the chimookoman, white people, encroach more and more on their land, life continues much as it always has. Every summer the family builds a new birchbark house; every fall they go to ricing camp to harvest and feast; they move to the cedar log house before the first snows arrive, and celebrate the end of the long, cold winters at maple-sugaring camp. In between, Omakayas fights with her annoying little brother, Pinch, plays with the adorable baby, Neewo, and tries to be grown-up like her beautiful older sister, Angeline. But the satisfying rhythms of their lives are shattered when a visitor comes to their lodge one winter night, bringing with him an invisible enemy that will change things forever. Set on an island in Lake Superior in 1847, and filled with fascinating details of traditional Ojibwa life, The Birchbark House is a breathtaking novel by one of America's most gifted and original writers.… (more)

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