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

Jamie Leslie

In the book The Birchbark House by Louise Erdrich, a young girl named Omakayas lives with her family in the year 1849. When she was a baby, she was the lone survivor of a smallpox outbreak that killed everyone in her village. She then was placed with a foster family though she has no idea that she is not related to them by blood. This story proceeds to tell about Omakayas and her crisis with discovering who she is and what she is meant to do in her life. A great story filled with destiny, hope, tragedy, and love. I think this book would make for an interesting read for students. It would also be great to expand this book across the curriculum by talking about Native Americans during that time for social studies, having students dry their own leather or fur for science, and many other different subjects. The text was easy enough to understand but still presented an interesting story. I think students can relate to this text because there will always be a family member that we lose to a certain sickness, so the reader can definitely relate to the story. I really enjoyed this book. I thought it was a great way to gleam some insight into the daily life of a Native American girl living in 1849. It also introduced a lot of unfamiliar and multicultural vocabulary such as makazins, which are what the characters wore in the book for shoes. I also loved how the chapters were broken up into seasons. This was a great way to introduce the changes the girl and her family had the make with each differing season. I would definitely recommend this book to my peers and students.


I thought that this book was a little slow to get into. One you passed the few couple chapters, the purpose and plot of the book really pick up. After that, I really enjoyed the book. I think that the things that the protagonist struggles with issues that many young adults also struggle with. This is an important connection that these children can make to the main character and the novel itself. I liked that Ojibwa focus. I think that it was such realistic writing and made me feel like I was there too. I am from the area that this book was placed and I am pretty sure that I have been to the island. So that was an important connection for me.


This was a very nice book I read for my World Lit for Children class. It follows one year in the life of a Ojibwa girl. There wasn't necessarily a typical plot structure with a beginning, middle, and end... it was really more events in her life, and showing how she grew up and started to realize who she was. It was very well done though, and I enjoyed the detailed glimpse into Ojibwe life. Also, my Professor said that this book takes place around the same time as the Little House on the Prairie books, which makes it an interesting contrast to that series!


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.

Dan Holt

The Birchbark House follows a family of Anishinabe through one year, from summer to spring, through the eyes of an eight year old girl, Omakayas. Highlights are the illness that plagues the family in the winter, and the growing awareness of Omakayas' destiny. Bears also figure prominently in the story. Although geared toward a young audience, adults will find the imagery and POV character compelling.


Recommended for grades 4th and up“The Birch bark House”, by Louise Eridich, is a response to the “Little House on the Prairie” series. It takes at westward expansion from the perspective of Native Americans. The book centers on an Ojibwa family on an island in Lake Superior after surviving a small pocks epidemic. The story is told in a third-person narrative, through a year. It focuses on a young girl, Omakayas, who turns “eight winters old”, In a chronological order the author describes how the tribe builds a summer home from birch bark, gather with family members to harvest rice in the fall, treat smallpox during the winter and make maple syrup in the spring to sell to others. Erdrich, uses the culture and traditions of the Ojibwa tribe to convey, Omakayas experiences of childhood: her love for animals and her ability to cope with harsh winters. Through out the book the author gives hints at Omakayas’s calling as a healer and the dangers of the “chimookoman”/white people bring to her tribe.Subject: History/Social Studies“The Birch bark House”, is a great book to use in a history lesson to explain the effects the white man had on the Native Americans. It can also be used to learn about how the Ojibwa tribe lived and their traditions.


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.


** spoiler alert ** I enjoyed this book very much. The explorations of the Ojibwa culture were interesting and absorbing. The smallpox was so hard to read about. (Is that a spoiler? Maybe.) The nearness to the bone of their lives cheek by jowl with their insistence that the soul of the people is made of laughter was incredibly poignant. More than once I thought, 'yeah, well, take THAT, Laura Ingalls' but no doubt that's only mean-spiritedness on my part. I did love Laura, but I think I'd rather have had Omakayas to grow up with.I found an Ojibwa word in this book that I love with all my heart: manidominenz (mah-nih-DOH-min-eynz), which means tiny beads- but literally means "little spirit seeds". If I ever open a bead store, that's the name of it.The illustrations were the weakest link, I thought. Again, I found myself thinking of Laura Ingalls and those wonderful Garth Williams illustrations- which added so much to my enjoyment of Laura's opposite side of this tale.

David Ropars

I read this book aloud to my children after supper each night. It was a great story to read aloud because there were so many different voices (and I mean voices in more ways than just the things the characters say). They were enchanted by the characters but a little shocked by some of the things that the children had to do in their daily lives. It generated great discussions for our family about how things were for the native Americans back in that time period. It was good for them to get to understand that although this story is fiction, the experiences of the characters could have (and probably did ) happen in all Native American families.

Myah Quinn

In all honesty, I had a really hard time getting into this book, especially at the beginning of my reading. Because the text was so detailed and the story took a while to pick up, I just found it a bit hard to get in to at first. It reminded me so much of the Little House books! However, now that I have finished the book, I can say that I really enjoyed reading about Omakayas and the Ojibwe peoples. Erdrich does a great job of making this text into an authentic experience for readers, and I loved the fact that the plot was so close to home. This book had me thinking a lot about how thankful I am for everything that I have in my life, and I think that elementary children could really learn a lot about native peoples and their own lives from this well-written text. It was, overall, a pretty good book.

Jess Michaelangelo

So, not only can Louise Erdrich write excellent adult fiction, but she is also a master at children's stories. This book would be a perfect way for young readers to branch out and explore different cultures, as well as different time periods. The book focuses mainly on Omakayas (Oh-MAH-kay-as) and her life and the customs of an Oijbwa tribe. I loved Omakayas--she was such a great protagonist. She's smart beyond her years, but she's also just a normal kid, and that makes her relatable to her readers. She thinks her younger brother is a pain, she's jealous of her older sister, and she wants to avoid chores. I was completely caught up in the descriptions of the Ojibwa way of life, and Erdrich wrote effortlessly without being overdetailed or boring. Native Americans rely strongly on their oral storytelling, and that was reflected in this book. Even though I was reading written words, I could hear them being read aloud, and I feel like this would be the perfect book to read huddled around a campfire. Erdrich has a talent with characters, and I could picture each of them perfectly. They had such distinct personalities, and I know that I, for one, want to read more about this family. She sets this one up perfectly for a sequel because it isn't towards the end of the book until Omakayas really discovers her calling in life and actually gets to act upon it. She also has a talent for writing emotions. There were times when my heart leapt, and there was one particular talent that tugged at my heartstrings and left me feeling so sad and desolate that I had to read on in the hopes that something happy would happen again soon. Another thing that I give Erdrich HUGE props for is her use of the Ojibwa vocabulary. There is a glossary in the back of the book, but I found myself using it more for pronunciation purposed than for definitions. Erdrich makes sure that the vocabulary is clearly defined, either by outright stating what it means or by using enough context to make it clear. Really, I didn't even need the glossary for the pronunciation because being that the Ojibwa language was meant to be spoken, not written, the words are spelled phonetically. A small thing that I loved were the illustrations by Erdrich throughout the story. Simple, but strikingly beautiful at the same time. I love stuff like that--it's like little autographs from the author but better! Overall, I loved so much about this book, I can't get over it! I can't wait to read the next one of Omakayas' story and I can't wait to go out and get my own copy of this!


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.


I really enjoyed this story. In fact, I almost cried in a few places! I loved learning about the Ojibwe traditional way of life, and I think that Erdrich does a great job of weaving in little facts and Ojibwe words into the story without overdoing it. I really liked the glossary that she included in the back of the book along with the pronunciations for each word. After I finished reading, I spent another 15 minutes just going through each word and saying them out loud.Erdrich does a wonderful job in her characterization of Omakayas. I can imagine children today completely identifying with her and her annoyance at her pushy little brother and her bossy older sister. She seemed just like a little kid who just happened to live in a birchbark house half the year, and that's exactly what you want in an historical fiction.Although I'm afraid that saying this might scare off some potential readers, the book reminded me a little bit of Island of the Blue Dolphins. There's the same careful rendering of the details of everyday life present in both books. It's the reason why I loved Island when I was a kid, and it's also why I was drawn so quickly into Omakayas' world.

Cheryl in CC NV

For some reason this didn't quite hit my 'enjoy' button. I believe it was well-written, and it had a good mix of historical value, excitement, humor, family relationships, and coming-of-age inner story. I suspect the only kids who read it are those who get it read to them in school, though.

Cynthia Egbert

I found this book on the shelves of the house in Florida. It was a book that Michayla had purchased for herself and I was intrigued to see a book that I did not know. I am glad that I noticed it and picked it up and took the time to read it. I cannot wait to discuss it with her, upon her return. It is a poignant story, but there is one part that I particularly loved. Here is the passage:"Yes, there was something about what had happened that made Omakayas very quiet. As she worked, she began to get all empty and peculiar and faint inside. A thought was coming. A voice approached. This happened to her sometimes. A dizzy feeling would pass over her. If she attended to it closely, once it was gone she would know something a little extra, as though she'd overheard two spirits talking."This is a beautiful description of something that has occurred for me on a few special occasions in my life. I appreciate the way this author has presented such a powerful spiritual moment.

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