Book Club Spotlight – The Birchbark House

Cover of The Birchbark House by Louise Erdrich. A young Ojibwe girl stands with a crow perched on her shoulder. Behind her is a field with trees and a single room house built of birchbark and tanned hides behind her.

November is Native American Heritage Month, and I’m excited to spotlight books written by Indigenous authors in our collection. As we go into the month of Thanksgiving, it’s important to remember the people who were here first and the sacred land we are on. Today, we will focus on a story of a young girl in the Northern Midwest on traditional Ojibwe land. The Birchbark House, by Chippewa woman Louise Erdrich, began as a story she would tell to her daughters. Wanting to show the love, community, and humanity that represents Native American culture rather than the negative depictions, Erdrich published the story, which went on to win the WILLA Literary Award in 2000.

Excitable and brave spirited, Omakayas, or Little Frog, is a young Ojibwe girl who lives with her family near present-day Lake Superior. As white people begin to take over the land, Omakays and her siblings continue their way of life while the adults fear that they must move soon. We follow the local community as they survive, learn important lessons and skills, and enjoy a peaceful life together. But when a sickly visitor crashes a powwow one night, he brings deadly smallpox to the area; and the course of the community and Omakayas’ life are changed forever.

“Like Andeg, she couldn’t help being just who she was. Omakayas, in this skin, in this place, in this time. Nobody else. No matter what, she wouldn’t ever be another person or really know the thoughts of anyone but her own self.”

Louise Erdrich

The Birchbark House is the first in the series chronicling the life of Omakayas’ family over 100 years. This novel is perfect for a young book group who wants to read stories like The Little House on the Prairie but through the lens of a young Indigenous girl instead. It is also an interesting read for adult groups who want to learn more about Indigenous culture pre-colonization. The story is brought to life through beautiful illustrations by the author and stories taken from her own life and family. Often the action will stop, and the reader is fully engrossed in the storytelling of an elder. Through this, Erdrich shows the reverence for the past, tradition, and the land that Omakayas and her people hold. Reading groups can discuss how tradition and culture play into their lives and the connections they see between the people in Omakayas’ tribe and those they know.

If you’re interested in requesting this book for your book club, you can find the Book Club Kit Request Form here. (Items must be requested by a librarian) 

To see more of our Native American Voices book club titles, visit the link here.

Erdrich, Louise. The Birchbark House. HarperCollins Publishers. 1999.

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