So I followed up my reading of Caddie Woodlawn (written in 1935 by Carol Ryrie Brink), which was set in 1864-1865 in western Wisconsin, with The Birchbark House, which was written by Louise Erdrich and published in 1999.
The Birchbark House is set in northern Wisconsin (on the shores of Lake Superior) in 1847, but like much of Caddie Woodlawn, a lot of the story is timeless. It is the story of a seven-year-old girl dealing with an annoying younger brother, a bossy older sister, and some quirky relatives. The character descriptions (along with the beautiful landscape descriptions and the fascinating portrayals of everyday life) really made the book something different and wonderful for me. And Old Tallow reminded me more than a little of Grandma Dowdel, one my favorite characters ever in a children's story.
I loved Erdrich's illustrations, too.
I would recommend this for kids of any age, except that there is a sudden, devastating death in the middle of the book. It is heartbreaking, and it isn't something that can just be skipped by not reading a couple of chapters, because much of the second half of the story deals with how Omakayas (the main character) comes to terms with her loss. This part is actually very beautiful and uplifting to read, and reminded me of one of my favorite books from college - Return to Laughter, by Elenore Smith Bowen, which also describes smallpox in a small community. But some younger or more sensitive kids may not be able to deal with this story as well as older children, so I'm going to say it is best for kids eleven and up.
Erdrich also has a beautiful children's book aimed at younger kids, and set in contemporary times, that older kids may like, too, called Grandmother's Pigeon. It is a nice follow-up to The Birchbark House, because it shows that Native Americans don't just exist in the misty past along the shores of Lake Superior.
Tags: book+reviews, Birchbark+House, Erdrich, children's+literature