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The Birchbark House Paperback – May 13, 2002

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

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.

Readers will be riveted by the daily life of this Native American family, in which tanning moose hides, picking berries, and scaring crows from the cornfield are as commonplace as encounters with bear cubs and fireside ghost stories. Erdrich--a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Ojibwa--spoke to Ojibwa elders about the spirit and significance of Madeline Island, read letters from travelers, and even spent time with her own children on the island, observing their reactions to woods, stones, crayfish, bear, and deer. The author's softly hewn pencil drawings infuse life and authenticity to her poetic, exquisitely wrought narrative. Omakayas is an intense, strong, likable character to whom young readers will fully relate--from her mixed emotions about her siblings, to her discovery of her unique talents, to her devotion to her pet crow Andeg, to her budding understanding of death, life, and her role in the natural world. We look forward to reading more about this brave, intuitive girl--and wholeheartedly welcome Erdrich's future series to the canon of children's classics. (Ages 9 and older) --Karin Snelson --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From 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.)
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Age Range: 9 and up
  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Disney-Hyperion; Reprint edition (May 13, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0786814543
  • ISBN-13: 978-0786814541
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (93 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #13,298 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Louise Erdrich is the author of twelve novels as well as volumes of poetry, children's books, and a memoir of early motherhood. Her debut novel, Love Medicine, won the National Book Critics Circle Award. The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse was a finalist for the National Book Award. Her most recent novel, The Plague of Doves, a New York Times bestseller, received the highest praise from Philip Roth, who wrote, "Louise Erdrich's imaginative freedom has reached its zenith--The Plague of Doves is her dazzling masterpiece." Louise Erdrich lives in Minnesota with her daughters and is the owner of Birchbark Books, a small independent bookstore.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

82 of 84 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 28, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Any child who has read and loved such classics as the <Little House> series, or <Indian Captive> will welcome the gift of this book. My 8-year old daughter declared it to be the best book she's ever read, and urged me to read it. I did, and I concur. It's a wonderful read, and one that I plan to buy as a gift for years to come. The heroine of this book is such a delight. The hundred-plus years that separate her from the modern reader melt away. Erdrich has done a powerful job of maintaining the historical accuracy of this book while making her characters relevant to modern readers. Really well done.
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50 of 52 people found the following review helpful By Elly on December 3, 1999
Format: Hardcover
The Birchbark House is a very good topic book for people learning about Native Americans. Though it is historical fiction, it shows a daily Native American life very well using the example of a little girl called Omakyas and her siblings. Louise Erdrich is very descriptive in her writing, and I recommend it to readers of any age.
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63 of 67 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on September 11, 1999
Format: Hardcover
A beautiful book. Parallel in many ways to Wilder's series, this tells the other side in a moving way. We follow a year in the life of an 8-year-old Ojibway girl, including a tragic smallpox epidemic, a meeting with a bear family, and finding out her true heritage.
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36 of 38 people found the following review helpful By Maryanna on February 8, 2000
Format: Hardcover
I read this book aloud to my daughter's 3rd-4th grade class. Thirty or so children (ages 8, 9 & 10) listened attentively for 30 minutes near the end of each day for several weeks. If a child had been absent, other students would update him or her. Their teacher took over one day when I couldn't be there and read the chapter when the family is stricken with small pox. The next day a group of girls met me in the hall to tell me how sad it was when Omakayas' little brother died. Another time, the entire group burst out laughing at a comical event. The pictures were beautiful, but I chose not to show them while I read. I enjoyed having the Ojibwe words interspersed throughout the text. I had to slowly sound words out, and I believe that learning them together helped the students and me connect.
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26 of 27 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 3, 2000
Format: Hardcover
The book starts slow. It builds background knowledge and "flavor", but it may be hard for a pre-teen child to continue to read independently. That's why I think this book would be a good choice for read-aloud or adult-child paired reading. However,the author really grabs the reader by Chapter 10 (The Visitor). It becomes a "can't-put-it-down book" as the reader experiences Omakayas' fear and sorrow because of the White Man's visit. It is an excellent book to show the everyday life of Native Americans before their lives were severely changed by foreigners in their lands. It would be a good book to read with the Little House series to compare lifestyles, but also to illustrate the American Indians' perspective of the pioneer movement.
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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on December 21, 1999
Format: Hardcover
This is an excellent book! I loved it! The Birchbark House is about a girl's life. That girl's name is Omayakas. Omayakas suffers a very hard life. She has a little brother who suffers a terrible disease called smallpox. This book had me thinking a lot about life and death and thankfulness. I mean if you really want something such as Pokemon supplies, stuffed animals, toys, think of the people that are less fortunate and put aside that thing that you want!
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24 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Wilibald on May 24, 2005
Format: Paperback
I taught this novel to a group of approximately eight 5th graders in a literature circle where it was met with mixed reviews. Some students loved the story while others were lost in the cultural references and Ojibwe vocabulary.

The beginning of the novel is slow as background information about the Ojibwe culture is revealed. Having to constantly flip back and forth between the text and the glossary and pronunciation guide did contribute to a disjointed feeling, but that lessened as the story developed and I became more familiar with the vocabulary.

I loved the feeling of being immersed in the Ojibwe culture, but several references were beyond my scope of knowledge. One such reference is the windigo. The glossary describes it as a "giant monster of Ojibwe teachings, often made of ice and associated with the starvation and danger of deep winter." After further research, I discovered that the windigo is one of, if not the most feared creatures to the Algonquin people which include the Cree, Blackfoot, Ojibwe, and Algonquin. It is believed to be once human but has since turned into an icy cannibal of pure evil. This gave me a deeper understanding of its context in the book.

This book is an excellent read for young readers and immerses them in the Ojibwe culture, but it may require more than one pass to fully understand it and its references. The glossary is fine to get a quick answer to fill in the gaps, but to fully appreciate the text, some outside research may be necessary.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 20, 2000
Format: Hardcover
This book is a great book about a young Native-American girl named Omakayas. She lives on an island in Lake Superior. Omakayas doesn't consider herself a heroine, but in this wonderful book she becomes one without knowing it. As you read this book you will become part of her world, an 8 year old girl who doesn't realize just how important she really is. At least, not until a visitor arrives. That's where Omakayas discovers who she really is. I really enjoyed this book. No one could interrupt me till I was done.
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