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The Birchbark House | Class #3, 2015

The Birchbark HouseLouise Erdrich’s historical novel The Birchbark House is the first in a series, each book following a child from a different generation in an Ojibwa community.

Often, books for children contain a central character who is about the same age as the book’s readers. The Birchbark House would be a tough read for most children who are Omakayas’s age. There are beautiful descriptive passages that young readers tend to gloss over, and difficult vocabulary including some Ojibwe words. For these reasons, it works best when read aloud to those younger grades — as Robin Smith discusses in her article.

What did you think of this book? And what about reading aloud in school? For those of you who are teachers, do you? And what books have you found that work best?

Lolly Robinson About Lolly Robinson

Lolly Robinson is the creative director for The Horn Book, Inc. She has degrees in studio art and children's literature and teaches children's literature at Harvard University's Graduate School of Education. She has served on the Caldecott and Boston Globe-Horn Book Award committees and blogs for Calling Caldecott and Lolly's Classroom on this site.



  1. Lindsey Bailey says:

    The world-building in this book is beautifully done – I couldn’t put the book down but to be thinking of Omakayas and her family. I loved the deep insight into the life of another culture that this book offers, and how human and relatable it is. The storyline with the crow was one of my favorites. I can definitely imagine myself reading this book to my third graders – they would love it.

  2. Annie Thomas says:

    I loved this book! I thought it was a wonderful way to introduce a culture that most children would be very unfamiliar with, but Omakayas’ experiences with her family members and some of her fears were probably what many children experience as well. I have not worked with the age group that would benefit from a read aloud for this book, but I think it would be great to have students try to do some reading on their own. I think this book could also spur a lot of discussions about how Omakaya’s family may have been different but also the same as many student’s families.

  3. Joshua Jenkins says:

    This quiet but powerful book brought me peace, solitude, and an escape on my daily commute on the subway the past few days. This novel is a quiet book–character driven–and just like Lindsey, I found myself visualizing the book at moments when I wasn’t able to pick it up. When I finished it on this morning’s commute, I was sad that I wouldn’t be able to read it on the way home.

    The finesse of the descriptions of setting and character in this book would lend itself as a terrific mentor text for an upper elementary writer’s workshop, though I’ve never taught with the book myself. Imagine showing fourth or fifth graders how to describe Andeg or Pinch the way Louise Erdrich does and then having them practice on a character of their own they’re developing.

  4. Anderson says:

    This book is truly great! Children who read this are not only introduced to a culture that may be unlike their own, but also start to think more deeply about dreams, disease, animals, nature, family, adoption, and a host of other concepts. The great part is that they think about how these things are all connected and how the main character relates to all of these aspects of life.
    It pulls in somewhat of a history lesson. It deals with death. Children can begin to understand how they are different from the main character, yet identify with so many human aspects of the story. I think the book has great educational value.

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