We’re back to a historical fiction read aloud to match up with our US History studies with The Birchbark House by Louise Erdrich, the story of an Ojibwa girl living on what is now called Madeline Island in about 1847.
Omakayas was born on another Island in Lake Superior — but her family and everyone else on her island died in an outbreak of smallpox. Little Omakayas was rescued by a gruff older woman, and taken in by a family who raises her as their own. Omakayas is seven years old when the story begins, and The Birchbark House follows one year of her life through ups and downs, joys and sorrows.
We really enjoyed the rhythm of the passing seasons as we read this book, and the details of mid-nineteenth century American Indian life. Omakayas’ family is still living a traditional life for the most part, as their ancestors have done for centuries…yet the influence of the white men is creeping in, and will end up changing her family’s life in irrevocable ways.
I am not a reader who is easily emotionally moved by sadness in books that I read. It’s not that I don’t empathize characters experiencing tragedy…but I don’t usually feel those emotions in a particularly deep way. This was not the case for me with Birchbark House. I cried during a particularly sad part of the story when I was reading it outloud. Neither Miss M nor I could recall that ever happening before! A member of Omakayas’ family dies, and I could just imagine and even feel how sad it would be to be in that circumstance. (Miss M didn’t react so strongly — she just said “oh, I guess that would be sad.” I had to have a good cry even after we were done reading for that night!).
A day or two later as we finished the book, I was gushing to Tony about how much I enjoyed it. His comment was “So, it redeemed itself after that sad part, huh?” I told him that no, the sad part was sad but really good too. In the end, the sorrow that Omakayas feels shapes her and how she experiences life. She became a very real character to me — one that I found myself day dreaming about when we weren’t reading the book…Something I haven’t done with too many children’s books I have read with Miss M.
Needless to say, I am marking this as one of my favorite books we’ve read so far this school year (if not the favorite so far). Miss M and I both agreed to ditch our pre-planned reading list for a bit and read at least the next book in Erdrich’s four book series. So far, we’re enjoying The Game of Silence just as much.
I’m linking up with Read Aloud Thursday @ Hope is the Word!