Rave Reviews Log: Historical Fiction

February 09, 2009

The Birchbark House

By Louise Erdrich
Era: America 1847 (Minnesota)
National Book Award Finalist
Rating: 4 stars

This quiet story follows Omakayas or Little Frog's family, part of the Anishinabeg tribe (Ojibwa), and their life through a year on an island called Moningwanaykaning in Lake Superior. We meet her family of baby Neewo, 5 year old Pinch, older sister Angeline, Mama, Deydey and grandmother Nokomis. As the rhythm of the seasons pass, we learn about the every day life of the family, as well as trading and hunting, stories and games, work and duties. But other things plague their quiet life--the white man encroaches upon their land and lives and it is a topic of much discussion. Omakayas, too, is finding that she has an almost magical ability with some animals, most notably with bears and the crow Andeg she makes into a pet. Does her ability have something to do with what her future will be? And grim Old Tallow seems to watch Omakayas especially closely--for what reason? Is there a secret she knows? Then, with winter, the rhythm of their lives is disturbed when tragedy strikes the tribe. Can they all survive? Will spring ever come again? Beautifully written and illustrated, this deep and moving story in the face of looming change will inspire readers to pick up the sequels, The Game of Silence and The Porcupine Year to follow more of Omakayas' story.