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Tuesday, February 3, 2009

The Birchbark House - Louise Erdrich

Read for the 2009 YA Reading Challenge.

I first heard of this book in 1999, when it came out, and was compared to Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House books. It’s set in the same time period as those books, but takes place on the Island of the Golden-Breasted Woodpecker (Madeline Island) in Lake Superior, a traditional home of the Ojibwa (Chippewa) people. In the book, we follow a year in the life of Omakayas, or Little Frog, so named because her first step was a hop.

By following the seasons, you get a wonderful slice of what life for the Ojibwa was like in 1849, including a devastating small pox epidemic that swept the island. Erdrich paints a moving picture of both the good times and the bad times of these people (her ancestors). And even though it’s set more than a hundred-fifty years ago, there’s an immediacy to these characters (very similarly to the Little House books, which I adored as a child) that bridges that gap of time quite effectively. It’s all here, how they housed themselves, fed themselves, cared for their sick, and interacted with their spiritual world.

I’d recommend this book to anyone looking for a broader slice of American history. The stories of these people aren’t told as often as a they should be, and this book takes an important place besides other more famous books to help understand where we came from.

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