The birchbark house

Louise Erdrich

Book - 1999

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.

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New York : HyperionBooks for Children 1999.
Main Author
Louise Erdrich (-)
1st ed
Item Description
Maps on lining papers.
Physical Description
244 p. :bill
Contents unavailable.
Review by Booklist Review

Gr. 4^-8. Why has no one written this story before? Why are there so few good children's books about the people displaced by the little house in the big woods? In the first of a cycle of novels set at the time of the Laura Ingalls Wilder classics, Erdrich makes us imagine what it was like for an Ojibwa Indian child when the chimookoman (non-Indian white people) were opening up the land. Omakayas is eight years old in 1847, living on an island in Lake Superior. The technical detail may be too much for readers who want more action--there's a lot about what the Ojibwa ate on the island through the seasons, how they grew it and gathered it and cooked it, what they wore and how they made it, how they built the birchbark house, step by step--but Little House fans will enjoy that. And Erdrich is not reverential about the work: Omakayas is bored with the endless scraping and rubbing of hides; what she loves are the yearly traditions, such as the maple sugaring in the spring, the storytelling in the winter night. The characters are wonderfully individualized, humane and funny: Omakayas is jealous of her beautiful, older sister, impatient with her obnoxious brother, fiercely attached to her baby brother, excited and also tense when her half-French father is home from his work in the fur trade. She has a special bond with Old Tallow, a rugged, solitary, bear-hunting woman who is afraid of nothing. Erdrich's occasional small, detailed portraits (many resemble her) are drawn from photographs; they express the warm dailiness of Omakayas' world. There is a real plot from the very first devastating paragraph: "The only person left alive on the island was a baby girl . . . Smallpox had killed them all." Who is the baby girl? The mystery comes full circle at the end of the book. The whites are on the edge of the story, but they are there, pushing closer, more of them on the island every day, wanting the Ojibwa to leave. Then, just casually, quietly, in the middle of a paragraph in a middle chapter called "The Visitor," a thin, feverish French voyageur comes to spend the night in the village. He dies of smallpox. In the subsequent epidemic Omakayas loses her beloved baby brother and her best friend. The sorrow nearly overcomes her. Little House readers will discover a new world, a different version of a story they thought they knew. --Hazel Rochman

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

Erdrich's (Grandmother's Pigeon) debut novel for children is the first in a projected cycle of books centering on an Ojibwa family on an island in Lake Superior. Opening in the summer of 1847, the story follows the family, in a third-person narrative, through four seasons; it focuses on young Omakayas, who turns "eight winters old" during the course of the novel. In fascinating, nearly step-by-step details, the author describes how they build a summer home out of birchbark, gather with extended family to harvest rice in the autumn, treat an attack of smallpox during the winter and make maple syrup in the spring to stock their own larder and to sell to others. Against the backdrop of Ojibwa cultural traditions, Omakayas also conveys the universal experiences of childhoodÄa love of the outdoors, a reluctance to do chores, devotion to a petÄas well as her ability to cope with the seemingly unbearable losses of the winter. The author hints at Omakayas's unusual background and her calling as a healer, as well as the imminent dangers of the "chimookoman" or white people, setting the stage for future episodes. Into her lyrical narrative, Erdrich weaves numerous Ojibwa words, effectively placing them in context to convey their meanings. Readers will want to follow this family for many seasons to come. Ages 9-up. (May) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by School Library Journal Review

Gr 4-6-In her first novel for young readers, Erdrich has written and illustrated an evocative work about a young Ojibwa girl who lives on an island in Lake Superior in 1847. Although white settlers continue to encroach on Ojibwa land, Omakayas and her family continue to live as her people have lived for centuries. Each summer they build a new birchbark house; each winter's end is celebrated at the maple-sugaring camp; and every day the child lovingly cares for her infant brother and puts up with Pinch, her annoying younger brother. The ebb and flow of these seasonal and familial rhythms is abruptly altered when an ailing white man enters their midst, unknowingly bringing smallpox to the settlement. Omakayas's family falls ill and the young girl, who surprisingly does not contract the disease, nurses them with her last ounce of strength. But she cannot save her beloved baby brother, who dies in her arms. Omakayas falls into a severe depression that only time, rest, and the intervention of a taciturn, eccentric neighbor can overcome. While this title will not appeal to fans of fast-paced action, readers who enjoy a variety of deftly drawn characters, relationships that ring true, and fascinating details about the daily life of the Ojibwa will be attracted to this endearing and irrepressible girl.-Peggy Morgan, The Library Network, Southgate, MI (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Review by Horn Book Review

With a title and structure that inescapably recall Laura Ingalls Wilder's family stories, Louise Erdrich here paints a detailed portrait of Ojibwa life in the mid-nineteenth century. Seven-year-old Omakayas lives hap-pily with her extended Ojibwa family on the Island of the Golden Breasted Woodpecker on Lake Superior. Although the reader knows her as ""the girl from spirit island"" who alone escaped the smallpox that decimated her people when she was a baby, Omakayas grows up without knowledge of her past. Erdrich traces a full season in the life of Omakayas, in which her adopted family succumbs to smallpox but the young girl lives to nurture everyone except her beloved baby brother back to health. It is also a season in which Omakayas learns her true heritage from the crusty and courageous Tallow, who saved her as a child that she might grow to save others, and complete a circle earlier begun. Although Omakayas's people experience extraordinary hardship as they move with the seasons in search of food and shelter, they also find much joy in play. The antics of Andeg, Omakayas's pet crow who can say ""gaygo"" (""stop it"") to her irksome brother Pinch, and the mischief of two reappearing bear cubs prevent this sometimes-sentimental story from lapsing into the over-reverential. Along with painstaking descriptions of household tasks and customs, Erdrich crafts images of tender beauty (Omakayas's father's moccasins, ""soft and open...seemed relieved to flop inside the door and nestle into the safe embrace of Mama's pair"") while weaving Ojibwa words seamlessly into the text. Her gentle spot art throughout complements the sweetness, sadness, and humor of this first of several projected stories that will ""attempt to retrace [her] own family's history"" and thereby redress the imbalances of a literature that erases or distorts the Native American's place in our country's past. s.p.b. (c) Copyright 2010. The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

(c) Copyright The Horn Book, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Review by Kirkus Book Review

With this volume, Erdrich (Grandmother's Pigeon, 1996, etc.) launches her cycle of novels about a 19th-century Ojibwa family, covering in vivid detail their everyday life as they move through the seasons of one year on an island on Lake Superior. A baby girl crawls among the bodies of her family, dead from smallpox. After that stinging beginning, an unexpectedly enjoyable story follows, replete with believable characterizations, humor, family love, and misadventures. Omakayas, now seven, adores baby brother Neewo, detests rambunctious five-year-old brother Pinch, and worships her beautiful teenage sister, Angeline. Omakayas works and plays through the summer and fall, learning the ways of her people; she has a frightful adventure with bears and adopts a young raven as a pet. But in winter smallpox again affects her life: Neewo dies, and Angeline is scarred for life. Omakayas cannot find her way back to happiness until an odd old woman tells her the truth of her past, in a novel that is by turns charming, suspenseful, and funny, and always bursting with life. (Fiction. 10-14)

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.