As we were finishing The Birchbark House by Louise Erdrich a couple weeks ago, Miss M and I both agreed — we needed to continue on with its sequels without delay (so much so I ordered a copy of the second book in the series from Amazon so as not to have to wait for a copy to arrive at our library. Such is the luxury of being a “Prime” member of Amazon).
The Game of Silence picks up Omakayas’ story about two years later. A group of raggedy distant relatives of Omakayas’ people arrive on her island, having fled their homes after enemy attacks. Besides the personal horrors these people have suffered, they bring bad news that the white men intend to drive the Ojibwe people from their island home. A group of men are sent out in all directions to find out the truth and the cause of this situation.
This sense of imminent change hangs in the background of The Game of Silence, yet the rhythm of the story is still the seasons in one year of Omakayas’ life as she grows and matures. Miss M could totally relate to Omakayas’ frequent annoyance with her younger brother Pinch (we know all about annoying younger brothers in this house!). I could completely relate with Omakayas as she tries to impress her family by going out to start the rice harvesting early, yet having her plan go all wrong as she gets in trouble for starting too soon, and her already-prideful cousin Two Strike get glory and attention for her hunting success.
The title of the book comes from a game the grown ups ask the children to play when they must have an important discussion. One of the elders sings a song, and all the children know they must be quiet, and prizes are given out to the children who can remain quiet the longest (isn’t that a good idea?). As the book closes, a year of “silence” of another sort ends as few of the scouts sent out return, and those that do return, do so with bad news — there is to be no changing the minds of the government. Omakayas and her people must leave their beloved island home.
The Game of Silence ends with Omakayas’ family leaving their home in search of a new place to call home, and the story picks up not much later in The Porcupine Year as they are still on their long journey that will take them to northern Minnesota.
While there were a few funny moments in the first two books of this series, we definitely found the most humor in this, the third book. The story opens as Omakayas and Pinch barely survive being swept through river rapids while hunting at night. While separated from their family, Pinch has an unfortunate run-in with a baby porcupine and ends up with Quills all over his head and body — earning a new name for himself (Quill) and a pet in the process. This porcupine plays a surprisingly important role in this next year of the life of Omakayas’ family, which they will forever remember as the “porcupine year.”
The journey to what will hopefully become a new home near Lake of the Woods starts out well enough, but takes a turn toward adversity as their trust is betrayed and many of their possessions and food stores are stolen. Omakays and her family have to endure a cold winter without the many things they had collected for their journey.
While I usually read to Miss M at bed time, our eagerness to continue the story found us reading on a Saturday afternoon last weekend. Mr. E eagerly joined us and loved the funny little boy Quill with the pet porcupine that rides on his head. While Mr. E didn’t end up listening to the whole book with us, he sat in on most of it (joining us after a quick picture book read with daddy). Mr E told us that he’s liking longer books more now…especially ones with “lots of adventures”. I think he’ll be joining us for more bedtime stories in the near future.
Especially when taken as a group, these two books along with The Birchbark House are my favorite read alouds so far this school year. Erdrich has created such a wonderful, compelling character in Omakays and it is evidence of her great ability as a writer that she has had me both crying and laughing as I read them aloud. The next book in the series, Chickadee, jumps much further forward to Omakayas as a mother of twin boys who are the focus of the fourth book.
I don’t think I’m quite ready for Omakayas to grow up in my mind. I think I’ll linger on these pleasant thoughts of her as a maturing young girl a bit longer…but I’ll definitely have Chickadee on hand for the time when we are ready to continue her story.
I’m linking up with Read-Aloud Thursday @ Hope is the Word!