I discovered this book in the summer and really enjoyed it. I like reading about the details of life from different perspectives and time periods. This would be a really good book to share with students to help them learn about another culture.
Description from Amazon:
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.
The Birchbark House was written by Louise Erdrich and published by Hyperion in 1999.
As a reader and teacher:
I really enjoyed this story – especially all the details of the chores Omakayas did, and her relationship with her family and the mischievous crow, Andeg. I learned more about the Ojibwa culture and thought more deeply about what they may have experienced. This story was really a survival story – one where the main character faced a variety of hardships, including sickness and death. It kept me hooked until the end.
I also liked the main character’s special connectedness to animals and how she learned from her family.
As a writer:
Since I grew up on the shores of Lake Superior, I was particularly interested in the setting. The author used lots of specific detail in her descriptions. Even though this story did not follow a traditional plot, the family conflicts and hardships, as well the development of the character Omakayas kept me interested and wanting to finish the story. The way the author sprinkled in traditional language added to the authenticity of the story (there is a glossary at the back).
“The only person left alive on the island was a baby girl.”
“The air was fresh, delicious, smelling of new leaves in the woods, just-popped-out mushrooms, the pelts of young deer.”
“Everything was ice in her dream, and she was sliding on it.”
Louise Erdrich has written several other books in the Birchbark House series.
Here’s a discussion of the importance of names for the Ojibwa girl, Omakayas, in The Birchbark House.