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Birchbark House #1

The Birchbark House

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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

244 pages, Paperback

First published July 21, 1999

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About the author

Louise Erdrich

136 books9,480 followers
Karen Louise Erdrich is a American author of novels, poetry, and children's books. Her father is German American and mother is half Ojibwe and half French American. She is an enrolled member of the Anishinaabe nation (also known as Chippewa). She is widely acclaimed as one of the most significant Native writers of the second wave of what critic Kenneth Lincoln has called the Native American Renaissance.

For more information, please see http://www.answers.com/topic/louise-e...

From a book description:

Author Biography:

Louise Erdrich is one of the most gifted, prolific, and challenging of contemporary Native American novelists. Born in 1954 in Little Falls, Minnesota, she grew up mostly in Wahpeton, North Dakota, where her parents taught at Bureau of Indian Affairs schools. Her fiction reflects aspects of her mixed heritage: German through her father, and French and Ojibwa through her mother. She worked at various jobs, such as hoeing sugar beets, farm work, waitressing, short order cooking, lifeguarding, and construction work, before becoming a writer. She attended the Johns Hopkins creative writing program and received fellowships at the McDowell Colony and the Yaddo Colony. After she was named writer-in-residence at Dartmouth, she married professor Michael Dorris and raised several children, some of them adopted. She and Michael became a picture-book husband-and-wife writing team, though they wrote only one truly collaborative novel, The Crown of Columbus (1991).

The Antelope Wife was published in 1998, not long after her separation from Michael and his subsequent suicide. Some reviewers believed they saw in The Antelope Wife the anguish Erdrich must have felt as her marriage crumbled, but she has stated that she is unconscious of having mirrored any real-life events.

She is the author of four previous bestselling andaward-winning novels, including Love Medicine; The Beet Queen; Tracks; and The Bingo Palace. She also has written two collections of poetry, Jacklight, and Baptism of Desire. Her fiction has been honored by the National Book Critics Circle (1984) and The Los Angeles Times (1985), and has been translated into fourteen languages.

Several of her short stories have been selected for O. Henry awards and for inclusion in the annual Best American Short Story anthologies. The Blue Jay's Dance, a memoir of motherhood, was her first nonfiction work, and her children's book, Grandmother's Pigeon, has been published by Hyperion Press. She lives in Minnesota with her children, who help her run a small independent bookstore called The Birchbark.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,496 reviews
Profile Image for Kelly.
Author 6 books1,205 followers
August 14, 2016
The stark differences between actual self-sufficient people and "Little House" self-sufficient is noteworthy, as are the roles women played.

Absolutely necessary reading alongside the Wilder books. And, perhaps, far more interesting.
Profile Image for Lisa Vegan.
2,743 reviews1,212 followers
September 10, 2010
Thank you a million times over to the Children's Books group because I’d tried to read this book some time back, got about ¼ or so the way through it, and put it down because I didn’t enjoy the writing style. Because it’s one of the books chosen as a group read for this book, and because I know a couple of people who love this book, I decided to again try to read it. I’m so grateful that I took this new opportunity.

I have such a difficult time with this author’s writing style. Many readers love it, but I struggle with it. The descriptions of how all the animals are used are so vivid, and repulsive to me, even as at the same time I can appreciate these people’s way of life. I did like this book enough to finish it on this (my second) attempt. And, I’m so glad I did because, for me, it went from a 2 star to 3 star to 4 star to almost 5 star book. I loved the ending and was tempted to give this book 5 stars, but given my early struggles, I can’t quite do that.

I love the beautiful name Omakayas, and I did love saying it out loud. I very much appreciated that it was a real name taken from a census. At the end of the book, I really appreciate the glossary with pronunciation of Ojibwa words and the author’s note about that language being an oral, not a written, language. Although, when the words are used in the book proper, the English translation is generally used alongside them, so as the reader reads, it’s easy to figure out what they mean. As I always do, I enjoyed the map on the inside covers of the book.

The sibling rivalry seems spot on, as does the sibling love. I love Andeg the crow. I love the all the birds, bears, and even the dogs.

There is some sadness, with wonderful descriptions of grief and depression. I nearly cried two times, once with a loss that was not a death, and once with the reveal toward the end and going to the end of the book.

It’s enjoyable to read of a time and culture where the children are full contributors to their community; they do the work adults do, and when they’re old enough to do certain tasks they do them. There is no artificial separation between the generations, other than the younger people being required to follow the directions of the older people and the young people engaging in some play.

I ended up loving this book because the characters, human and non-human, are so memorable and the description of the way these people live is so vivid, and so fascinating. I became completely engaged!
Profile Image for Hilary .
2,192 reviews398 followers
August 21, 2019
Did not finish. I started this as a read aloud and my daughter didn't enjoy this so continued reading to myself but found I couldn't get to know the characters and was enjoying the hunting element of this book. I did expect a book about a native American family to have some detail of this kind but certainly for the first third of the book this was the main content. I was dissapointed there was virtually no details of gathering, berry picking is briefly mentioned but leads straight to an incident where finding the berries missing In one sentence the rice paddocks are mentioned, I would love to have heard about those, perhaps they are described in the later part of the book I missed but I would have been very interested to hear about the harvest of this and feel that the gathering side of their hunter gatherer life was missed out on. I didn't enjoy the way this was written or the subject matter but many seem to have really enjoyed this book so I would recommend giving this a try.
Profile Image for Emily.
Author 1 book581 followers
March 20, 2020
I read this aloud with my 10 year old and asked her for her rating. She said the first half was a 4 star but the second half was only 1.5 stars.

I frequently see people recommending this book for very young children. I can't understand that. The writing is beautiful, and I enjoyed the story. But oh my goodness...it's so sad. I would NOT recommend this to a child younger than 10. My 10 year old found it devastating, hence the low rating.
Profile Image for Book Concierge.
2,733 reviews327 followers
October 30, 2019
Book on CD narrated by Nicolle Littrell

What Laura Ingalls Wilder did for the pioneer families in 19th century plains states, Erdrich has done for the Native Americans in this same time period.

Omakayas is a seven-year-old Ojibwa girl living in Wisconsin. She is the sole survivor of a small pox epidemic when she’s taken into another family as an infant. Tallow is a strong matriarch and Omakayas (also called Little Frog), thrives in the community on Lake Superior’s Madeline Island, also known as the Island of the Golden-Breasted Woodpecker. The book follows Omakayas, her family and the tribe through four seasons of 1847.

I was fascinated by this story of the life of the Native Americans during this time period. I learned about the hard work of tanning hides, the craft of decorating special garments with intricate beadwork, the cycles of hunting and gathering, and the dangers (and joys) of living so close to nature.

Omakayas is a wonderful narrator – inquisitive, observant, intelligent, and compassionate. She’s also a typical seven year old – sometimes a little naughty, and not always understanding the reasons why she is asked to perform certain tasks, or forbidden from other adventures. I can see why this is sometimes taught in social studies classes for middle-grade students.

Erdrich is a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Ojibwa, and she spoke to various Ojibwa elders about the significance of Madeline Island. Events depicted are historically accurate (including a documented small pox epidemic). The text version includes Erdrich’s pencil drawing illustrations.

Nicolle Littrell does a fine job performing the audio version. She has good pacing and the book is clearly understandable for even younger readers.
Profile Image for Jessica Woodbury.
1,583 reviews1,982 followers
March 12, 2021
When we started this book, I wasn't sure if the kids would go with it. A lot of the books we read are pretty action-packed, which helps since we only read 10-15 pages or so a night. But they settled right in even though the first half of the book is not really about plot at all, just letting you live the daily life of Omakayas and her family.

By the second half of the book I no longer encountered the usual "can we skip reading tonight?" questions I get every few nights, we burned through it, even the extra-sad parts.

This is often positioned as an alternative to the Little House books, which it absolutely is, but it's also a lot more than that. It has its own slow rhythm that immerses you into the time and place before you realize it's happening.

It's a little embarrassing that this is my first Erdrich, she's been on my list for ages, but I was very impressed with this and can't wait to venture into her adult fiction. The kids would like to continue the series as well.
Profile Image for Camryn.
Author 4 books779 followers
August 5, 2022
So I know that I'm not a teacher or librarian, but to me it feels like this book isn't talked about enough, and that tons of young people should read it. As someone who loved the Little House books, I think it would've been really important to have read this series alongside it.

Louise Erdrich is a masterful storyteller and I think everyone knows it, but the journey we go on is so rich and multilayered and heartbreaking and hopeful that I'm not really sure how to give it words. I read this in an entire sitting. I think I would've done the same if I had first picked this up when I was ten. I'm so glad this series exists.

I have to update to say I do have more to say: the complex feelings about grief hit me so hard this week as I'm mourning my father and it's the anniversary of his death, but the smallpox and how it spreads through this community and changes it forever has these scary links to covid that I think would be really good for kids right now. I'm just. This is so good.
Profile Image for Abby Johnson.
3,373 reviews309 followers
November 9, 2016
Why did it take me so long to pick up this book?!

It's the story of Omakayas, an Ojibwe girl growing up in the mid-1800s. The book is loosely plotted and takes you through a year in her life. I especially liked the bits that explain how Omakayas's community does things like make their houses, create their food cache, etc. In that way, it's very like Little House on the Prairie and kids who are interested in How They Did Things Way Back Then will eat this up for sure.

The story has more emotion to it than what I remember from Little House. When smallpox comes to their village, there are some harrowing moments as Omakayas struggles to care for her family.

Push this into the hands of all the Little House on the Prairie fans you know. I will definitely be grabbing the other books in the series from my library tomorrow.
Profile Image for Jonathan Peto.
252 reviews46 followers
August 10, 2022
Just read in the Horn Book magazine that a fifth title in this series (Birchbark House) is coming out. I read this one, the first one, aloud to a fourth grade class years ago. I remember it began slowly, like some other reviewers note. I remember worrying that the class would mutiny, but they didn't. When we finished it, I prodded them to disparage it but they defended the book heatedly. (The class was all girls. Maybe boys would feel differently…?)
Profile Image for Melody.
2,623 reviews253 followers
June 11, 2010
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.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Madeleine (Top Shelf Text).
292 reviews238 followers
October 7, 2018
The Diverse Books Club has selected The Birchbark House for the theme of Indigenous Perspectives in November this year. I previewed this title during our selection process and loved it. I would recommend it for middle grade readers who enjoy historical fiction, and for those who are curious to learn more about indigenous cultures. Louise Erdrich is an own voices author -- meaning that she belongs to the tribe that she writes about, and her insights combined with her talented prose make for a great reading experience. I would recommend this for young readers ages 9+ due to some heavy content relating to familial death and the smallpox epidemic that swept through indigenous cultures after coming in contact with white settlers.
Profile Image for Shawna Finnigan.
454 reviews300 followers
April 19, 2020
Trigger warnings: suicidal attempt and self harm

I read this book for my children and teen literature class. It was beautiful yet also incredibly sad at the same time.
Profile Image for nettebuecherkiste.
511 reviews126 followers
November 10, 2018
Nordamerika im 19. Jahrhundert. Die kleine Omakayas lebt mit ihrer Familie auf einer kleinen Insel im Oberen See. Sie gehört dem Stamm der Anishininabeg an, oft auch Ojibwe genannt. Jeden Sommer zieht die Familie vom Dorf weg zu einer etwas entfernt gelegenen Stelle, wo sie ein Haus aus Birkenrinde erbauen. Es gibt viel zu tun und auch Omakayas hilft gerne mit, wenn sie nicht gerade Felle zur Vorbereitung der Lederherstellung abkratzen muss, denn das ist wirklich eine lästige Arbeit. Am liebsten passt Omakayas auf das Baby auf, ihren kleinsten Bruder, wohingegen der etwas ältere Little Pinch in ihren Augen eine echte Plage ist. Außerdem hat Omakayas noch eine wunderschöne ältere Schwester namens Angeline. Das Leben auf der kleinen Insel verläuft friedlich und im Einklang mit der Natur, doch es hat auch Schattenseiten. In Jahren mit schlechter Ernte droht Hunger im Winter und es kursieren Gerüchte, dass die Weißen die Ojibwe umsiedeln wollen. Außerdem haben die Weißen etwas aus Europa mitgebracht, was für die Indianer eine große Gefahr darstellt.

Louise Erdrichs von ihr selbst liebevoll illustriertes Kinderbuch gibt einen wunderbaren Einblick in das Leben der Indianer Nordamerikas. Oft wird es als indianisches Gegenstück zu Laura Ingalls‘ Buch „Little House in the Big Woods“ gesehen. Die Gefahren, denen die Familie ausgesetzt ist, werden nicht verschwiegen, es gibt auch einen Todesfall in der Familie. Lediglich das Ausmaß, in dem die Besiedlung durch die Weißen die Kultur der Indianer störte und zerstörte, wird etwas gemildert dargestellt, und es werden keine Auseinandersetzungen mit den weißen Siedlern geschildert. Insofern eine liebenswerte, kindgerechte Geschichte, der ich viele junge Leser, vor allem in Amerika, wünsche. Auch für Erwachsene wirklich lesenswert. Am Ende des Buches findet sich ein Glossar mit indianischen Wörtern und Ausdrücken.
Profile Image for Catherine.
354 reviews
February 15, 2010
This is a gorgeous book - a year in the life of Omakayas, a young Ojibwe girl who lives at the edge of Lake Superior in 1847. The book weaves together a dozen different strands of narrative - Omakayas' family responsibilities and affections; her work as young woman; the subsistence patterns of her community; the effect of trade and sickness on the Ojibwe; the potential for treaties and removal by the Americans; the world of medicine, and of spirits; the presence of missionaries and their schooling; the reality of loss and the transformative effect of healing. Omakayas' life is rooted in her Ojibwe heritage, and there's enormous value in seeing that no matter the presence of traders, missionaries, priests, soldiers and settlers, her life is still oriented by the knowledge and values her community have passed down for generations - and that they have use for the things non-Indians bring into their midst, for often quite different reasons than non-whites would plan.

The Birchbark House is a children's book - or perhaps a young, young adult's - but it is captivating and beautifully written. I learned a lot, and gained an enormous amount from stepping into the emotional life of Omakayas and her family, rather than simple reading non-fiction accounts of this time and place in secondary sources.
Profile Image for Lara Maynard.
373 reviews151 followers
May 23, 2020
3.5 stars. A sort of framed story with quite a lot of trying to set the scene but not always compellingly so content in the middle. My favourite character was the crow. Though the animal in novels is often my favourite character.

This was okay and the first of Erdrich's children's books that I've read. But it reminded me that I need to read more of her adult fiction, of which The Plague of Doves is my favourite so far.
Profile Image for BookChampions.
1,183 reviews107 followers
October 4, 2017
This book is the perfect companion to Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House books. After reading
the first two Wilder novels with my 5 year old, it was obvious that Native American experiences were underrepresented. To my chagrin, my son was even a little scared of the Indians in those books. Erdrich's first novel for young people, written in the early 21st century, parallels Wilder's stories in many ways. Just as with Wilder, Erdrich provides historical information on survival and family dynamics, but it still has all the misadventures and misunderstandings. A few of the scenes, such as
the father's storytelling episode, and many of the characters perfectly mirror Wilder. And like our unsinkable Laura Ingalls, Omakayas is a worthy addition to young heroines of children's literature.

This is a second reading for me (the first many moons ago), and I enjoyed the prose a lot more than I remember. The book gives a fascinating look into a more matriarchal society at work, as most of the book men are away hunting and bartering, and Jude and I learned a lot about the Ojibwe way of life in way not filtered through a white protagonist. But what I most appreciate about The Birchbark House is the elevated final fifth of the book, where Erdrich uses her sophisticated storytelling powers to raise the complexity of Omakayas and her family. There is tragedy and realization, honesty and reflection.

It appears that Erdrich has written several more books in Omakayas' ongoing journey, much in the same vein of Wilder. I would be interested in personally checking them out, not even for future read alouds, but out of my own curiosity. I would urge all parents to consider sharing this book with their young ones, especially if they have loved, or plan to share, Wilder's novels—which by all means you should.
17 reviews2 followers
November 14, 2019
I thought it was a great book, with some good plot twists. In the beginning there could have been more happening, but it was a good book overall.
Profile Image for Mark.
1,362 reviews103 followers
July 7, 2017
Omakayas, is a seven year old Ojibwa girl and we follow her and her adopted family for four seasons in 1847 and this includes a smallpox outbreak, which decimated the tribe. This is a wonderful day to day, look at Native Americans living on an island in Lake Superior and it is fun to follow Omakayas on her various adventures, along with her pet crow Andeg. This is Erdrich's first young reader novel and a perfect companion to the Little House books.
Profile Image for Abigail.
7,087 reviews181 followers
August 16, 2019
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.
Profile Image for Kris - My Novelesque Life.
4,638 reviews190 followers
March 22, 2020

Thank you to Audible, for allowing readers to listen to audiobooks for children/teens (during the Covid-19 social distancing). I have been meaning to read this novel for awhile. I requested Makoons to read, and realized that it was actually fifth in a series. My library just had the physical copy available but it wasn't in the greatest condition. To put Audible's deals on my Insta story, I went to see what they had before I actually posted it. When I saw this I started to listen right away as I was working from home. It is a beautifully written story for all ages. I read that this novel should be read alongside the Little House on the Prairie to show how two families in the same time period were experiencing life. I totally agree with that statement. I do have the others in ebook format so will be continuing the series over the year (or maybe as a binge read)

(Please note: The Birchbark House, the first in the series, is the only freebie available during this time.)
Profile Image for Cherie.
1,278 reviews113 followers
January 11, 2020
Beautifully written and narrated. I really enjoyed the presentation of the story. Although the hardships of life and horror of smallpox was presented, it also emphasized the love and humor of the people towards one another.
Profile Image for Agnė.
747 reviews58 followers
November 29, 2017
Omakayas, the protagonist of The Birchbark House, is a seven-year-old Native American girl of the Ojibwa tribe. Since the story is set on an island in Lake Superior in 1847 and mostly consists of a detailed account of the traditional Ojibwa life, it serves as a counter narrative to Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House series.

However, I wish I liked The Birchbark House more. The first two-thirds of the story were slow-paced and rather dull, and Louise Erdrich’s writing seemed a little bit too childish. But I was pleasantly surprised to discover how much I actually cared about the characters and their fates when the rhythm of their lives was disturbed in the last third of the book.
Profile Image for Amy.
652 reviews131 followers
November 14, 2016
After the message of pioneers fearing native Americans in Little House on the Prairie, I decided we needed to listen to a book told from the other side of the story. The author's father is German American and mother is half Ojibwe and half French American, so she grew up experiencing and hearing about her native American heritage. The Birchbark House is a fictional work which takes place slightly earlier in American history than the Little House series when native Americans were still largely able to maintain a life in keeping with their tribe's traditions before large-scale intrusion by European settlers but right on the cusp of it. The native Americans have guns and are invited to send their children to school to learn to read, but their day-to-day life is still very similar to those of their ancestors. Still, they depend on nature around them for their daily survival. Their homes are made of birch bark, they hunt and gather for food, etc.

The story starts out with a smallpox epidemic in 1847 near Lake Superior where only one baby survives. It then diverges from that tale to follow the life of a 7-year-old Ojibwa girl named Omakayas. It follows her life through 4 seasons of the year. The story doesn't feel like it's driving toward any specific end, but it's pleasant. We see her love for her family and her affinity toward the animals around her. She tames a black bird as a pet and has conversations with bears. Life is sometimes hard and sometimes sad, but there's plenty of good to bring a smile to her face.

I don't have any intention of continuing this series, but it was nice to dip my toes into it for a while. My 6-year-old enjoyed it and begged to listen to it daily. She kept hoping that we'd meet the baby bears again, and was not disappointed. They even made me smile.
Profile Image for Amanda H.
24 reviews
October 17, 2010
Immediately the first paragraph catches your attention and you expect the story to be full of adventure and interesting. It is not the case until about half-way through.
The begining is extremely slow with the background information. It explains how the Objiwa tribe that "Little Frog" is part of prepares their Birchbark house for the Spring and the activities that happen during the spring time. Everything keeps hinting at this great "dream" that "Little Frog" is supposed to get but nothing really happens. The only thing interesting is when she goes into the forest and is playing with bear cubs.
Around the middle is when things get interesting but extremely sad. Her whole family (except "Little Frog" and her grandmother) gets Smallpox from the white men. Her grandmother becomes too weak to take care of everyone by herself so "Little Frog" starts to help. Unfortunately then her favorite little brother dies and her older sister's extremely good friend dies. "Little Frog" is left in shock for almost the rest of the book.
"The Birchbark House" writing style is more geared towards younger children but the content is anything but for younger children. The begining would make most older children put the book down after about the first chapter. Younger children would probably love it but once the family gets smallpox the content is too strong for most young children to handle. Once I got half-way I enjoyed this book but the begining was dry.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Judy.
3,047 reviews51 followers
December 16, 2021

rating: 4

Smallpox has shaped the life of Omakayas. To me, that's one of the most important points of the story. Today, kids have a limited view of infectious disease. They can name the flu and the common cold, but not much else. Gone is any memory of measles, mumps, and chicken pox. Even more remote are cholera, yellow fever, smallpox, polio, tuberculosis ... So many diseases once feared are no longer even remembered. I do appreciate this gentle reminder of medical history.

This may be the first book I've read about Ojibwas.


rating: 3.6

This is another title that complements Kimmerer's Braiding Sweetgrass. Things that she mentioned about the Ojibwas are reinforced here.

In my first review I commented that kids have a limited awareness of infectious disease. That is no longer true. Covid has added to their awareness of viral activity.

p 80: Before they were born, before they came into this world, the chimookoman* must have starved as ghosts. They are infinitely hungry.

Profile Image for Ellie.
46 reviews
October 27, 2020
I read this one aloud to my fourth graders. It was great, we all cried.
Profile Image for Mackenzie Marrow.
180 reviews2 followers
November 8, 2022
Nebraska Library Commission Book Club Spotlight - November 8th, 2022

... Today, we will focus on a story of a young girl in the Northern Midwest on traditional Ojibwe land. The Birchbark House, by Chippewa woman Louise Erdrich, began as a story she would tell to her daughters. Wanting to show the love, community, and humanity that represents Native American culture rather than the negative depictions, Erdrich published the story, which went on to win the WILLA Literary Award in 2000.

Excitable and brave spirited, Omakayas, or Little Frog, is a young Ojibwe girl who lives with her family near present-day Lake Superior. As white people begin to take over the land, Omakays and her siblings continue their way of life while the adults fear that they must move soon. We follow the local community as they survive, learn important lessons and skills, and enjoy a peaceful life together. But when a sickly visitor crashes a powwow one night, he brings deadly smallpox to the area; and the course of the community and Omakayas’ life are changed forever.

The Birchbark House is the first in the series chronicling the life of Omakayas’ family over 100 years. This novel is perfect for a young book group who wants to read stories like The Little House on the Prairie but through the lens of a young Indigenous girl instead. It is also an interesting read for adult groups who want to learn more about Indigenous culture pre-colonization. The story is brought to life through beautiful illustrations by the author and stories taken from her own life and family. Often the action will stop, and the reader is fully engrossed in the storytelling of an elder. Through this, Erdrich shows the reverence for the past, tradition, and the land that Omakayas and her people hold. Reading groups can discuss how tradition and culture play into their lives and the connections they see between the people in Omakayas’ tribe and those they know.
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July 14, 2016
The Birchbark House begins with a rather grim prologue that describes a baby girl crawling around the bodies of her family and crying while a group of men stand watching her on the shoreline of a small Lake Superior island. Knowing sickness has claimed the lives of everyone on the island except this little girl, the men get back into their canoes and leave, afraid and sure the baby will soon die of the same sickness as her family. One of the men decides to tells his wife about the baby, sure that this brave, fearless woman named Old Tallow would rescue the baby.

The baby is rescued and brought to an Anishinabe or Ojibwe family to be raised on another Lake Superior island they call Island of the Golden Breasted Woodpecker, in a village called LaPointe. The baby was named Omakayas, or Little Frog because her first step a hop, and she lives with her new family her DeyDey, her Mama Yellow Kettle, Nokomis (grandma), beautiful older sister Angeline, greedy and annoying younger brother Pinch and baby brother Neewo. Omakayas is unaware of what happened to her as a baby, but knows that Old Tallow had a special affection for her.

Now in the Summer of 1947, Omakayas begins to slowly and in great detail narrate the life of her family and other Ojibwe over a period of four seasons. There is a lot of work to be done during each season, most of it in preparation for surviving the winter when food is scare and the cold is bitter. There are hides to be scrapes and tanned, new makazins to be made, food to be planted, harvested, dried and stored in the cold earth, fish to be caught and dried, and wood to be chopped and stacked. But even though there is a lot of work, there is a lot of fun to be had, socializing to be done and pleasure in nature, in Nokomis's storytelling and celebrations with other Ojibwe to be had.

Into the hard, but contented life, comes talk of the chimookoman or white people wanted to push further west and the possibility that the Ojibwe will have to be moved. But before that happens, a sick visitor, a fur trader, arrives at the traditional dance the Ojibwe have in the late fall and dies of smallpox. In no time, the disease spreads to Ojibwe family in LaPointe, including Omakaysas's family. Everyone except Omakaysas is affected. When Old Tallow tells Omakayas the story her survival, it becomes clear that the year that has just passed was a year of growth and maturity for the young girl, one that leads a path to the possibility that she could eventually become a healer among the Ojibwe.

The Birchbark House has to be one of the most beautifully written, lyrical books I've ever read. Louise Erdrich has a way with words that is just mesmerizing, and yet so straightforward and simple. I often felt as if I were there, listening to a story told by Nokomis on a cold winter's night even though I actually read it on a warm June night.

Overall, The Birchbark House is a very descriptive book, thanks to Omakayas and her observations. Through them, the reader is introduced to Ojibwe culture, tradition and language. It is amazing to read of closely connected to nature Native Americans were, in particular how they lived with, used and totally respected the world around them. When an animal is killed for food, it's like is never taken for granted. Erdrich has sprinkled Ojibwe words throughout the novel, and there is a very useful glossary at the end of the book, with pronunciation help.

Omakayas is a wonderfully enchanting protagonist. She seems to understand so much at such a young age. But she isn't without spunk and daring. Not unlike most kids, she envies Angeleine's beauty, can't stand brother Pinch, loves Neewo and likes to pretend he is her baby, complains about chores she doesn't like, is devoted to her rescued crow Andeg, loves a good story, and feels totally at home in the natural world.

The Birchbark House is part of a series consisting of four novels. In August, a fifth novel, Makoons, will be added to this wonderful series written from an authentic Native American perspective. I can't wait to read and reread all of the Birchbark House series this summer, and can't recommend them highly enough.

A printable teaching guide that includes discussion questions, activities and projects is available for the first three books in the Birchbark House series HERE

This book is recommended for readers age 8+
This book was purchased for my personal library

FYI: Erdrich has claimed that the smallpox epidemic she writes about in this novel did indeed happen in 1847, although some readers have expressed skepticism about it. I did find a creditable reference to it in Holding Our World Together: Ojibwe Women and the Survival of Community by Brenda J. Child, published in 2012 by Penguin. Child writes that a fur trader named Lyman Warren died of smallpox on Madeline Island, spreading the disease that ultimately killed 18 Ojibwe there.

This review was originally posted on Randomly Reading
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