The Birchbark House

ISBN: 0786814543
ISBN 13: 9780786814541
By: Louise Erdrich

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Children's Childrens Currently Reading Fiction Historical Historical Fiction Multicultural Native American To Read Young Adult

About this book

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

Reader's Thoughts


This was just ok. I read it for the school library. I'm probably not the best judge since Native American lore is not of particular interest to me. However, I enjoyed the picturesque quality about it and it was interesting enough that I wanted to finish it. The main character is an 8 year old girl and I did find the depressive theme a but too heavy for one so young. It felt like an older person talking but maybe that was intentional on he authors part. I think she wanted her to be special. Nothing questionable in it. The realism of half starving through a winter, fighting disease and facing the death of loved ones at times I think would put this book in the 6th grade and up category.

Lisa Vegan

Thank you a million times over to the Children's Books group because I’d tried to read this book some time back, got about ¼ or so the way through it, and put it down because I didn’t enjoy the writing style. Because it’s one of the books chosen as a group read for this book, and because I know a couple of people who love this book, I decided to again try to read it. I’m so grateful that I took this new opportunity.I have such a difficult time with this author’s writing style. Many readers love it, but I struggle with it. The descriptions of how all the animals are used are so vivid, and repulsive to me, even as at the same time I can appreciate these people’s way of life. I did like this book enough to finish it on this (my second) attempt. And, I’m so glad I did because, for me, it went from a 2 star to 3 star to 4 star to almost 5 star book. I loved the ending and was tempted to give this book 5 stars, but given my early struggles, I can’t quite do that.I love the beautiful name Omakayas, and I did love saying it out loud. I very much appreciated that it was a real name taken from a census. At the end of the book, I really appreciate the glossary with pronunciation of Ojibwa words and the author’s note about that language being an oral, not a written, language. Although, when the words are used in the book proper, the English translation is generally used alongside them, so as the reader reads, it’s easy to figure out what they mean. As I always do, I enjoyed the map on the inside covers of the book.The sibling rivalry seems spot on, as does the sibling love. I love Andeg the crow. I love the all the birds, bears, and even the dogs.There is some sadness, with wonderful descriptions of grief and depression. I nearly cried two times, once with a loss that was not a death, and once with the reveal toward the end and going to the end of the book.It’s enjoyable to read of a time and culture where the children are full contributors to their community; they do the work adults do, and when they’re old enough to do certain tasks they do them. There is no artificial separation between the generations, other than the younger people being required to follow the directions of the older people and the young people engaging in some play.I ended up loving this book because the characters, human and non-human, are so memorable and the description of the way these people live is so vivid, and so fascinating. I became completely engaged!


Summary: This novel tells the story of a year in the life of a little girl named Omakayas, a member of the Anishinabeg people, and her family in 1847.Response: I enjoyed this quiet, descriptive novel very much. As I was reading, I felt there was more description than plot, and I realized it reminded me very much of "Little House in the Big Woods," I don't know how my "connection" would strike the author, since "Little House on the Prairie" is on Oyate's list of Books to Avoid. Having said that, I began to wonder if this was actually Louise Erdrich's response to the Little house books (and, there are 2 more books that tell Omakayas' story) in that Erdrich has tried to answer the portrayal of Native Americans in Laura Ingalls Wilder's books with her fully developed portrayal of life for the Anishinabeg people in the middle of the 19th century.From my readings of the reviews on the Books to Avoid list, it sounds like what has been missing is not just cultural sensitivity, but also stories that are told from the perspective of native authors. The depiction we find in children's literature is a white person's depiction, and this story, which feels familiar in structure, is told by Louise Erdrich, herself a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Ojibwa. I wonder if she intended this book to feel so similar to a "Little House" book, or if it is simply the way she wanted to tell this story, and I made that connection having grown up on a steady diet of laura and her family.


As this book was introduced to me during a peer-taught lesson focused on the comprehension strategy of making predictions, my interested was peaked by my initial predictions on the text: The Birchbark House is about a young girl who is on a journey to find herself and does so through exploring her Native American culture. I was especially excited to see how the setting, Lake Superior, played a role in the story as I have personal ties to the area. Upon actually reading the novel, I had a bit of difficulty really getting to the story but as I began to connect with Omakayas at the close of the book. She was able to persevere and find happiness within herself.


Auspicious beginning to a trilogy of books by Native American author Louise Erdrich. Omakayas is rescued from an island decimated by smallpox by a strong and individual woman, Old Tallow, and is adopted by an Anishabe family. Their beloved island, Island of the Golden Woodpecker, is coveted by English settlers and the traditional life of the tribe is changing. When smallpox hits this community, Omakayas (Little Frog) is able to help nurse some members of her family back to health, and as a result learns of her adoption. There is a glossary of Indian words at the end.


In the spirit of the Little House books, but so much more honest. Perhaps because Erdrich is not telling her own story, she doesn't fall into the trap of being overly sentimental. Whereas the Little House books are all about independence and boot-strappiness, even to the point of playing down those moments when the Ingalls needed their neighbors, this book is all about the importance of community and connections with the world around. And, of course, the portrayal of Native Americans is positive and acts as a nice counterpoint to Ms. Ingalls Wilders savages. It is a beautiful book.I read this book with my two children, 7 and 10. The seven year old loved it, asked for a chapter each night until the end. The 10 year old liked it, too, until we hit the point where there are two particularly difficult chapters in a row. He found them much too sad, and chose to stop reading with us shortly after. Although the following chapters are a bit easier, a sadness lingers until the end of the book, which can be difficult for children who are used to Disnified-happy endings.


Omakayas is seven at the start of The Birchbark House where the reader is immediately immersed in the rhythm of life for the Ojibwa family when they are building a birchbark house for the summer. In addition to the fascinating and minute details of daily life, the reader also learns about the cultural customs such as oral storytelling, creation myths, and spiritual beliefs within the tribe. In an interesting parallel, the birchbark is important to not only building the temporary housing structures but is also used to wrap the dead in burial. With her expert background knowledge, Erdrich's story of Omakayas, her family, and the various figures they encounter is a fascinating immersion into the culture and customs of the Ojibwa.


The story "The Birchbark House" by Louise Erdrich takes place in Lake Superior in 1847. The story is about Omakayas who is 7 years old who is moving to another camp because of what they do each fall. On a cold winter night, a mysterious man knocks at Omakayas' cabin. He presents Omakaya and her family a "friend" of his which is really an invisible person. But as the story moves on Omakaya learns some family history of her ancestors. On a rating of 1-5, 5 being the best, I would give it a 3 because it was really intense once she learned a secret. The only bad thing was the conclusion and climax because none of the 2 didn't make sense at all. I would recommend this book to people who like a mix of mystery, history, and a brief amount of comedy. This book is 241 pages long.


One of our literature books for 3rd grade at our school is Little House on the Prairie. Last year, the full-blooded Navajo parent of one of my students was bothered enough by the portrayal of Native Americans in that book that he asked to come in and talk to the class about his tribe.We decided to add a literature book from a Native American perspective to help balance things out a little. I was delighted to finally find this one.Omakayas, the main character in the book is 7 turning 8 years old, has an older sister who's perfect enough to resent, a younger brother who constantly annoys her, and a baby brother she adores. The book opens at the beginning of summer when Omakayas and her family are moving into their summer home. They build their summer birchbark house (a wigwam) and we proceed to follow the family through their adventures of the next year.Omakayas helps her mother cure leather, gathers berries, listens to stories, protects their corn field from ravens (one of whom becomes her pet), learns to sew moccasins and attach tiny beads to decorate them. She also makes friends with a family of bears who return time after time to protect, help, and eventually guide her.When they return to their winter house in the village, they visit with neighbors and we get to see some new traditions, as well as see how difficult surviving through a winter was.My only concerns are two scenes which make me slightly reluctant to recommend this to my students: (view spoiler)[Omakayas's baby brother dies in her arms during a smallpox outbreak. And a crazy old lady who's kindly to Omakayas but has a pack of dogs, one of whom is not at all friendly to her, ends up killing one of the dogs after it attacks Omakayas. (hide spoiler)]Overall, though, excellent book!["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>

Mira Gill

As I read this book, to me it somewhat took longer to get through the beginning rather than the ending. The beginning was full of much detail and description on Omakayas and her family. Even though it was hard to get through I am glad I took the time to read and comprehend it. I was able to learn so much about the Ojibwe lifestyle, which was very interesting and very eye opening. The ending is where the intensity of the story heightened and the book became a page turner for me. Overall I really enjoyed the story, the detail was great and I also felt the glossary in the back of the book that gave definitions of the Ojibwe language was awesome!


OBOB 2014. My 9-year old son began reading this book and said it was boring, so I had low expectations. I was very pleasantly surprised. I enjoyed the characters and respected how the author tackled tough issues like death, hunger, traditions, racism and family in a real, yet age appropriate way. It did take a little while to get into the plot, but it was a rewarding read once you were hooked.


For those of you who don't know, I'm currently in graduate school for Library and Information Science, with a focus on Children and Young Adult materials. I'm currently in a class about Children's Materials, and while I have a LOT of children's novels assigned to me, I felt like it wouldn't really be fair to apply any of those to my 2013 Reading List. However, I did decide that I wanted at least one to be put towards it, because I had requested in from the library earlier this year but never picked it up due to laziness and forgetfulness. That book was THE BIRCHBARK HOUSE by local author Louise Erdrich. I had helped run a LITTLE HOUSE themed camp at one of the historic sites I work at, and was told that THE BIRCHBARK HOUSE was a very well done counterpoint to those books, showing what life during pioneer times and before was like for the American Indians. I was very happy to see it on the reading list for my class this fall, and I must say that reading it in conjunction with LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE really, really opened my eyes to a few things. So let's get down to the review, shall we?Omakayas is a young Ojibwe girl who lives with her family on an Island in Lake Superior (The Island of the Golden Breasted Woodpecker, spefically, which is modern day Madeline Island in Wisconsin). She has a mother (mother), a father (Deydey), a grandmother (Nokomis) and three siblings (Angeline, Little Pinch, and Neewo). Her father is half French, the son of a fur trader and still very much active in the fur trade that was occurring during this time, and he spends some of the time of the year away from his family so he can provide for them. The story centers around four seasons of Omakayas's life when she is seven years old, and while it is a very typical life for an Ojibwe family during this time (and well researched by the author, from what I've read on it), that winter everything changes for Omakayas and her family. For a stranger wanders to their camp, and brings with him Smallpox.I was not expecting that twist. Well, alright, I kind of was, because the summary on the back of the book alludes to it. I know enough about local history of the tribes in this region to know that this was the time that Smallpox started to really devastate the people in these groups. But when it happened, it was heart wrenching to see. I foolishly had some hope that, since it was a children's story, everyone I grew attached to in the story would be okay. But that was not the case in history, so it was of course not the case in this story. I feel like it was handled in a very good way. It was matter of fact, but it still showed the grief a person feels when they lose someone, and how long term consequences can remain even after the worst of it has passed. At the same time, however, life went on for the family, and while Omakayas was so sad, and so devastated, she also found strength within herself after all of it.That isn't to say that I didn't spend the last half of the novel very much like Louise Erdrich, like I said, very clearly did some research on the culture and history of the Ojibwe up by the Apostle Islands in Wisconsin. I found this book to be not only peppered with lots of great information, but a great counterpoint to the pioneer novels that have become so beloved in our culture. THE BIRCHBARK HOUSE is one that should be just as much a part of a child's library as the LITTLE HOUSE books are. Phenomenal. I want to find the next one as soon as possible.


I really enjoyed this book. I love Louise Erdrich as an author and read her children's book at the recommendation of a friend. I wish I'd read this as a child, because it's exactly the sort of thing I would have loved!The book deals wonderfully with identity, family, responsibility, and death from a child's perspective. It's also an interesting historical look into Native American life in 1847. Erdrich's love and respect for her heritage always shines through in her work.I love Erdrich's normal writing style, and while it wasn't quite as nuanced, I liked her "child voice" as well. I thought it was an honest portrayal of a child's mind with which any young person (especially those with siblings) could identity. Overall, I would recommend this book to children or tweens, or anyone who is a fan of Erdrich's work.


Great book. It was one of those times I felt I was supposed to read this book at this time in my life right now and the book just resonated with me. I felt Erdrich did a great job depicting everyday life as well as sending life long messages left and right. 5th grade teacher read it out loud to her class during a Native American study. The students loved it.

Amanda H

** spoiler alert ** Immediately the first paragraph catches your attention and you expect the story to be full of adventure and interesting. It is not the case until about half-way through. The begining is extremely slow with the background information. It explains how the Objiwa tribe that "Little Frog" is part of prepares their Birchbark house for the Spring and the activities that happen during the spring time. Everything keeps hinting at this great "dream" that "Little Frog" is supposed to get but nothing really happens. The only thing interesting is when she goes into the forest and is playing with bear cubs. Around the middle is when things get interesting but extremely sad. Her whole family (except "Little Frog" and her grandmother) gets Smallpox from the white men. Her grandmother becomes too weak to take care of everyone by herself so "Little Frog" starts to help. Unfortunately then her favorite little brother dies and her older sister's extremely good friend dies. "Little Frog" is left in shock for almost the rest of the book. "The Birchbark House" writing style is more geared towards younger children but the content is anything but for younger children. The begining would make most older children put the book down after about the first chapter. Younger children would probably love it but once the family gets smallpox the content is too strong for most young children to handle. Once I got half-way I enjoyed this book but the begining was dry.

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