The Book Reviews – Website

January 18, 2010

The Birchbark House

The Birchbark House

Author: Louise Erdrich

Page Length: 244

Reading Level: 6

Genre: Historical Fiction

PLOT SUMMARY: After relating the rescue of a baby smallpox survivor from Spirit Island, the story jumps seven years and unfolds into a little Native American girl’s, Omakayas’,  point of view.  She introduces all the characters and paints the deep love and respect of their family as they complete the seasonal chores of life such as growing food, hunting for/storing meats, and making clothes and other household articles. 

Mother, Yellow Kettle, her older sister, Angeline, and Grandma, Nokomis, are strong and capable female members of the family.  Mother is shrewd, joyful and beautiful.  Omakayas is jealous of Angeline’s beauty and bead skills, and yet wants to grow up to be just like her.  Nokomis constantly attends to chores, medicines and rituals.  Omakayas learns to build the birchbark house, to listen to the plants, animals and dreams and to tell stories by helping Grandma daily.  Her little brother Pinch is an incessant bother, always naughty and greedy.  Omakayas is embarrassed by the mean thoughts she has about Pinch.  It is ironic that Pinch’s behavior paves the way for the family to laugh again after the horrible illness that invades the family.  Omakayas heals Pinch and Pinch heals the family.  Her little baby brother Neewo is sweet and loving and always delights is Omakayas’ attention.  Her love for Neewo is as great as her grief on his death.  Deydey, her father, is a fur trader and often away, either hunting or trading.  Life was different when Deydey was home “…more exciting, …more difficult,…less predictable,…more secure”. (p.52)  Old Tallow, Omakayas’ surrogate mother, godmother, hero, mentor, savior and friend, looms large as her shadow throughout the story.  She provides strength, justice and life.

REVIEW:  A student who has read and loved such classics as the Little House  (Wilder) series and Indian Captive will enjoy this book. The Birchbark House displays the daily life of American Indians through the adventures of a little girl, Omakayas, and her siblings. Author Louise Erdrich, a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Ojibwa depicts the story of 1847 Ojibwa life. The book includes a detailed map of the area in which her story takes place and a glossary of terms. This book is a wonderful read to learn about the Native American culture. The reader is left thinking a lot about life, death, and thankfulness.  

AREAS FOR TEACHING: characterization, compare/contrast, figurative language, theme, setting, conflict, plot, cause/effect, sequence of events, voice, mood, tone, American Literature, author’s purpose, comic relief, dialect, and protagonist

RELATED BOOKS: Grasshopper Summer by Ann Turner, The Life and Death of Crazy Horse by Russell Freedman, Morning Girl by Michael Dorris, Sweetgrass by Jan Hudson, The Eagle’s Shadow by Nora Martin, The Cry of the Crow by Jean Craighead George. Books by the same author: The Porcupine Year and The Game of Silence, The Antelope Wife, Love Medicine, Tracks

MOVIE CONNECTIONS: The Last of the Mohicans (1992), Dancing with Wolves (1993), Broken Arrow (1950, Col.), Geronimo (1993 Col)



REVIEWED BY:  Tammy Leitzel



  1. I think you should add more about the climax and first turning point!

    Comment by luciagiron — May 17, 2010 @ 11:15 am | Reply

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