Cover image for The birchbark house
The birchbark house
Erdrich, Louise.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : HyperionBooks for Children, [1999]

Physical Description:
244 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm
Omakayas, a seven-year-old Native American girl of the Ojibwa tribe, lives through the joys of summer and the perils of winter on an island in Lake Superior in 1847.
Reading Level:
970 Lexile.
Program Information:
Accelerated Reader AR MG 6.1 7.0 36398.

Reading Counts RC 6-8 4.9 11 Quiz: 17743 Guided reading level: T.

Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
X Juvenile Fiction Open Shelf
X Juvenile Fiction Open Shelf
X Juvenile Fiction Open Shelf
X Juvenile Fiction Open Shelf

On Order



For use in schools and libraries only. Omakayas, a seven-year-old Native American girl of the Ojibwa tribe, lives through the joys of summer and the perils of winter on an island in Lake Superior in 1847.

Author Notes

Karen Louise Erdrich was born on June 7, 1954 in Little Falls, Minnesota. Erdrich grew up in Wahpeton, North Dakota, where both of her parents were employed by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. She is a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa. Erdrich graduated from Dartmouth College in 1976 with an AB degree, and she received a Master of Arts in creative writing from Johns Hopkins University in 1979.

Erdrich published a number of poems and short stories from 1978 to 1982. In 1981 she married author and anthropologist Michael Dorris, and together they published The World's Greatest Fisherman, which won the Nelson Algren Award in 1982. In 1984 she won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Love Medicine, which is an expansion of a story that she had co-written with Dorris. Love Medicine was also awarded the Virginia McCormick Scully Prize (1984), the Sue Kaufman Prize (1985) and the Los Angeles Times Award for best novel (1985).

In addition to her prose, Erdrich has written several volumes of poetry, a textbook, children's books, and short stories and essays for popular magazines. She has been the recipient of numerous awards for professional excellence, including the National Magazine Fiction Award in 1983 and a first-prize O. Henry Award in 1987. Erdrich has also received the Pushcart Prize in Poetry, the Western Literacy Association Award, the 1999 World Fantasy Award, and the Scott O'Dell Award for Historical Fiction in 2006. In 2007 she refused to accept an honorary doctorate from the University of North Dakota in protest of its use of the "Fighting Sioux" name and logo.

Erdrich's novel The Round House made the New York Times bestseller list in 2013. Her other New York Times bestsellers include Future Home of the Living God (2017).

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Gr. 4^-8. Why has no one written this story before? Why are there so few good children's books about the people displaced by the little house in the big woods? In the first of a cycle of novels set at the time of the Laura Ingalls Wilder classics, Erdrich makes us imagine what it was like for an Ojibwa Indian child when the chimookoman (non-Indian white people) were opening up the land. Omakayas is eight years old in 1847, living on an island in Lake Superior. The technical detail may be too much for readers who want more action--there's a lot about what the Ojibwa ate on the island through the seasons, how they grew it and gathered it and cooked it, what they wore and how they made it, how they built the birchbark house, step by step--but Little House fans will enjoy that. And Erdrich is not reverential about the work: Omakayas is bored with the endless scraping and rubbing of hides; what she loves are the yearly traditions, such as the maple sugaring in the spring, the storytelling in the winter night. The characters are wonderfully individualized, humane and funny: Omakayas is jealous of her beautiful, older sister, impatient with her obnoxious brother, fiercely attached to her baby brother, excited and also tense when her half-French father is home from his work in the fur trade. She has a special bond with Old Tallow, a rugged, solitary, bear-hunting woman who is afraid of nothing. Erdrich's occasional small, detailed portraits (many resemble her) are drawn from photographs; they express the warm dailiness of Omakayas' world. There is a real plot from the very first devastating paragraph: "The only person left alive on the island was a baby girl . . . Smallpox had killed them all." Who is the baby girl? The mystery comes full circle at the end of the book. The whites are on the edge of the story, but they are there, pushing closer, more of them on the island every day, wanting the Ojibwa to leave. Then, just casually, quietly, in the middle of a paragraph in a middle chapter called "The Visitor," a thin, feverish French voyageur comes to spend the night in the village. He dies of smallpox. In the subsequent epidemic Omakayas loses her beloved baby brother and her best friend. The sorrow nearly overcomes her. Little House readers will discover a new world, a different version of a story they thought they knew. --Hazel Rochman

Publisher's Weekly Review

The author's first novel for children centers on young Omakayas and her Ojibwa family who live on an island in Lake Superior in 1847; PW's Best Books citation called it "captivating." Ages 9-up. (Aug.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

School Library Journal Review

Gr 4-6-In her first novel for young readers, Erdrich has written and illustrated an evocative work about a young Ojibwa girl who lives on an island in Lake Superior in 1847. Although white settlers continue to encroach on Ojibwa land, Omakayas and her family continue to live as her people have lived for centuries. Each summer they build a new birchbark house; each winter's end is celebrated at the maple-sugaring camp; and every day the child lovingly cares for her infant brother and puts up with Pinch, her annoying younger brother. The ebb and flow of these seasonal and familial rhythms is abruptly altered when an ailing white man enters their midst, unknowingly bringing smallpox to the settlement. Omakayas's family falls ill and the young girl, who surprisingly does not contract the disease, nurses them with her last ounce of strength. But she cannot save her beloved baby brother, who dies in her arms. Omakayas falls into a severe depression that only time, rest, and the intervention of a taciturn, eccentric neighbor can overcome. While this title will not appeal to fans of fast-paced action, readers who enjoy a variety of deftly drawn characters, relationships that ring true, and fascinating details about the daily life of the Ojibwa will be attracted to this endearing and irrepressible girl.-Peggy Morgan, The Library Network, Southgate, MI (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

The Girl from Spirit Islandp. 1
Neebin (Summer)
1. The Birchbark Housep. 5
2. Old Tallowp. 19
3. The Returnp. 33
4. Andegp. 51
Deydey's Ghost Storyp. 61
Dagwaging (Fall)
5. Fishtail's Pipep. 73
6. Pinchp. 82
7. The Movep. 99
8. First Snowp. 107
Biboon (Winter)
9. The Blue Fernsp. 121
Grandma's Story: Fishing the Dark Side of the Lakep. 134
10. The Visitorp. 140
11. Hungerp. 162
Nanabozho and Muskrat Make An Earthp. 172
Zeegwun (Spring)
12. Maple Sugar Timep. 189
13. One Horn's Protectionp. 216
14. Full Circlep. 221
Note on the Ojibwa languagep. 240
Glossary and pronounciation guide of Ojibwa termsp. 241