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Book Review | The Birchbark House by Louise Erdrich

From the Publisher: Omakayas and her family live 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 they build 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. But the satisfying rhythms of their life are shattered when a visitor comes to their lodge one winter night, bringing with him an invisible enemy that will change things forever– but that will eventually lead Omakayas to discover her calling. By turns moving and humorous, this novel is a breathtaking tour de force by a gifted writer.

This is a highly recommended read for any Little House on the Prairie fans (along with Prairie Lotus by Linda Sue Park), as well as other readers interested in the mid-1800s and pioneering time period and aspects of American history. Louise Erdrich, an enrolled member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians, draws on her own family’s history to take us back to what for many is a familiar time and place and shows us the woods and waters through a new set of eyes. The Birchbark House follows a seven-year-old Ojibwe girl named Omakayas (Little Frog) and her family throughout the year on Lake Superior in 1847. Periodic black and white illustrations portray the day-to-day activities in the different camps; the reader will see how hides are prepared, footwear sewn, food stored for winter, and a myriad of other essential tasks. Authentic representation of a historic smallpox outbreak forms a major emotional part of the book, so younger and more sensitive readers should be aware.  A glossary and pronunciation guide of Ojibwe terms is included in the back, although many words can be understood from context.

I really enjoyed this book and very much recommend it to anyone who has read the Little House series and/or is looking for some fantastic historical fiction from a Native American author. The Birchbark House series has four additional books, guaranteeing many hours of getting lost in a great book. 

The Birchbark House is available for checkout at the Galesburg Public Library.