The Birchbark House
The Birchbark House

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Series: Birchbark House Vol. 1   

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Annotation: 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.
Catalog Number: #30580
Format: Perma-Bound Edition
All Formats: Search
Common Core/STEAM: Common Core Common Core
Copyright Date: 1999
Edition Date: 2002
Pages: 244 pages
Availability: Available
ISBN: Publisher: 0-7868-1454-3 Perma-Bound: 0-605-04516-X
ISBN 13: Publisher: 978-0-7868-1454-1 Perma-Bound: 978-0-605-04516-3
Dewey: Fic
LCCN: 98046366
Dimensions: 24 cm.
Language: English
ALA Booklist
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 Ichimookoman(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.
Horn Book
Focusing on seven-year-old Omakayas, Erdrich paints a detailed portrait of Ojibwa life in the mid-nineteenth century. Along with descriptions of household tasks and customs, Erdrich crafts images of tender beauty while weaving Ojibwa words seamlessly into the text. Her gentle spot art throughout complements this first of several projected stories that will "attempt to retrace [her] own family's history."
Kirkus Reviews
PLB 0-7865-2241-4 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)
Publishers Weekly

The author's first novel for children centers on young Omakayas and her Ojibwa family who live on an island in Lake Superior in 1847; PW's Best Books citation called it "captivating." Ages 9-up. (Aug.)

School Library Journal
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 Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Starred Review for Publishers Weekly

The author's first novel for children centers on young Omakayas and her Ojibwa family who live on an island in Lake Superior in 1847; PW's Best Books citation called it "captivating." Ages 9-up. (Aug.)

Starred Review ALA Booklist
*Starred Review* Like its predecessor The Birchbark House (1999), this long-awaited sequel is framed by catastrophe, but the core of the story, which is set in 1850, is white settlers' threats to the traditional Ojibwe way of life. Omakayas is now nine and living at her beautiful island home in Lake Superior. But whites want Ojibwe off the island: Where will they go? In addition to an abundance of details about life through the seasons, Erdrich deals with the wider meaning of family and Omakayas' coming-of-age on a vision quest. Just on the edge of the child's daily life and coming ever closer are the whites--among them, a Catholic "soul-stealer" priest and a friendly teacher who helps the children learn to read and write both Ojibwe and English so that they can confront cheating white agents. Readers familiar with the first book will welcome the return of several richly drawn nonreverential characters, including Omakayas' pesky brother, her irritable mom, and her bold, tough mentor, Old Tallow. As Erdrich said in the Booklist Story Behind the Story, "Little House on the Lake" BKL Ap 1 99, about TheBirchbark House , her research into her ancestors revealed the horrifying history and also a culture rich, funny, and warm. In this heartrending novel the sense of what was lost is overwhelming.
Voice of Youth Advocates
In this sequel to The Birchbark House (Hyperion, 1999), a young Ojibwe girl embraces her own talents under the threat of a United States government that has determined to take her people's land for itself. The year is 1850, and although her family has survived smallpox and unforgiving winters, this latest danger seems insurmountable. Stragglers pushed off their land join the tribe, filling homes emptied by disease and introducing new rivalries. Omakayas feels the first stirrings of romance and proves to the adults that her abilities deserve respect, as she rescues her father from slow death in a frozen lake and helps visualize the new life that the tribe will build to the west. Still a girl, she bristles against the restrictions that adults place on her and struggles to control the jealousy she feels for another girl who has managed to throw off traditional constraints. The first book won enormous praise, including a National Book Award nomination, but this novel is even better. The themes are not only more profound, but the episodic structure of the previous novel is also much exceeded by the interweaving plot threads of young love, sibling rivalry, and frustration with gender roles. The threat that the federal government poses to the community is more than just a framing device; it penetrates all the other concerns of the novel, drawing them tightly together. This novel combines all the emotion and joy of The Birchbark House with an impressive deftness of structure.-Joe Sutliff Sanders.
Word Count: 43,840
Reading Level: 6.1
Interest Level: 4-7
Accelerated Reader: reading level: 6.1 / points: 7.0 / quiz: 36398 / grade: Middle Grades
Reading Counts!: reading level:4.9 / points:11.0 / quiz:Q17743
Lexile: 970L
Guided Reading Level: T
Fountas & Pinnell: T

"[In this] story of a young Ojibwa girl, Omakayas, living on an island in Lake Superior around 1847, Louise Erdrich is reversing the narrative perspective used in most children's stories about nineteenth-century Native Americans. Instead of looking out at 'them' as dangers or curiosities, Erdrich, drawing on her family's history, wants to tell about 'us', from the inside. The Birchbark House establishes its own ground, in the vicinity of Laura Ingalls Wilder's 'Little House' books." --The New York Times Book Review

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