Earlier this winter, Miss M and I read the first three books in Louise Erdrich’s Birchbark House series. You can read my review of The Birchbark House here, and my review of The Game of Silence and The Porcupine Year here.
After finishing these three books, which feature main character Omakayas as a girl, we decided we wanted to wait a bit before reading the fourth book in the series, Chickadee. Chickadee picks up Omakayas’ story a number of years later. She is now a grown woman with twin boys of her own. After reading and enjoying the first three books, we just weren’t quite ready for Omakayas to grow up immediately.
Now that a few months have passed since the reading of those three books, we were ready to meet Omakayas in 1866. (This is actually well-timed historically, since we just finished up a read aloud on the Civil War!). It’s maple sugaring time, and Omakayas and her family are in the Sugar Bush with many other families. An older man makes fun of Chickadee for his small size and unusual namesake — Great-Grandmother Nokomis gives this older gentleman a piece of her mind, while Chickadee’s twin, Makoons, takes it a step further and pulls a prank on the old man.
In retaliation, the old man’s sons decide to kidnap one of the twins to take back to their cabin as a servant. They don’t really care which one they end up with…after all, they reason, don’t they look just alike? And couldn’t the family spare one since they have two of the same?
Babiche and Batiste reach into the family’s shelter in the night, and end up taking Chickadee with them. Babiche and Bastiste are pretty hilarious and very awful all at the same time. Living in a mouse-infested cabin and seeming to not really care about this, they sing songs in praise of the awful concoction they apparently eat at every meal (and demand that Chickadee prepare for them now that he is their servant):
The way to start the day!
If your stew is full of hair,
Just spit it out and swear!
If your stew smells like your feet,
there’s more of it to eat…
Not long after being kidnapped, Chickadee outsmarts the brothers, is temporarily “rescued” by a group of Catholic nuns who would like nothing more than to scrub him down and cut off his braids, and then sets off a journey through the wilderness that he hopes will lead him home.
Meanwhile, his family has traveled to the plains to try and find Chickadee. Even when they realize he is no longer with the brothers who kidnap him, they decide to put down roots near the Red River while they await Chickadee’s return — starting a new chapter in the family’s story as learn they way of life in a very different environment.
I liked seeing how the characters have grown and changed in the year’s that have passed since The Porcupine Year. Even Omakayas’ brother Quill has grown up into a respectable, married man (who plays a big role in helping Chickadee return home!). Nearly all the major characters from the previous books appear in Chickadee — though I kept wondering what happened to the boy that Omakayas’ mother adopted as a baby in The Game of Silence, who traveled with them as a toddler to the Lake of the Woods area in the third book. He isn’t mentioned, so I hope that plot “hole” is explained in a future book in the series.
Miss M and I enjoyed this title in the Birchbark House series just as much as we enjoyed the others. And we’ll be looking forward with great anticipation for the next book in the series (though, in looking at the gaps between the previous books, we probably have at least another year or two to wait!). Readers who haven’t read the first three books could easily jump in at this point in the story…but the first three books are so good that you probably wouldn’t want to. 🙂
I’m linking up with Read-Aloud Thursday @ Hope is the Word!