The 2013 Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction goes to Louise Erdrich for Chickadee, published by Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. The annual award, created by Scott O’Dell and Zena Sutherland in 1982 and now administered by Elizabeth Hall, carries with it a prize of $5000, and goes to the author of a distinguished work of historical fiction for young people published by a U. S. publisher and set in the Americas. This is the second O’Dell Award for Louise Erdrich; she won it in 2006 for The Game of Silence, also published by Harper. (The honors don’t stop there; Erdrich also just won the 2012 National Book Award for her adult novel The Round House.) In Chickadee, fourth in the Birchbark House series, Erdrich moves to a new generation of the nineteenth century Anishinabe (known as Ojibwe today) family she created in The Birchbark House in 1999. That book’s young heroine, Omakayas, is now grown and married with twin eight-year-old boys of her own, and Chickadee’s adventure begins when one of them is kidnapped by a pair of ferocious (and, fortunately, feckless!) brothers. As Chickadee tries to make his way back home, his family pulls up stakes to look for him, and Erdrich expertly shuttles between the boy and his family as they search for each other along the Red River of the North and into the endless Great Plains. The book has humor and suspense (and disarmingly simple pencil illustrations by the author), providing a picture of 1860s Anishinabe life that is never didactic or exotic and is briskly detailed with the kind of information young readers enjoy: who knew, for example, that an oxcart train would be so loud, or that mosquitoes could be so terrifying? Anishanabe beliefs about the spiritual connections between humans and the natural world are conveyed matter-of-factly as Chickadee gets help and encouragement from his namesake bird; the Christian faith of the “Black Robes” is also given nuance and respect. Chickadee’s first taste of a peppermint stick in the burgeoning city of St. Paul is just one sign of the increasingly multicultural nature of his family’s world, a world that we hope this author continues to chronicle.
The Scott O’Dell Award winner is chosen by a committee appointed by Elizabeth Hall; its members are Ann Carlson, librarian at the Oak Park-River Forest High School, Deborah Stevenson, editor of The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books; and, as chair, Roger Sutton, editor in chief of The Horn Book. For more information about Scott O’Dell and the Scott O’Dell Award please visit scottodell.com.