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
Reviews:
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
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 childhood--a love of the outdoors, a reluctance to do chores, devotion to a pet--as 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)
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.)

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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