So I lied when I said I would start with the more obscure books, assuming that most teachers and parents are familiar with the big names. Then I remember how The Birchbark House took Read Aloud to a whole new level one year and I decided to dedicate a page to Louise Erdich.
I remember reading Caddie Woodlawn as a kid and loving it. Who wouldn’t love Caddie as she found trees to climb taller than the ones her brothers climbed and wasn’t afraid to pick up snakes or cross creeks? I also remember looking for books to read to my class, revisiting Caddie Woodlawn and deciding NOT to read it because of how Native Americans are portrayed. I found what I was after when I picked up The Birchbark House. Little wonder it was a National Book Award finalist in 1999. Mostly I’m surprised it didn’t win.
This is one of those treasures that can be read and re-read. Characters become friends you’d want to have in real life. Every family, no matter the ethnicity, needs a Nokomis, a Deydey and a Yellow Kettle. Real tears were shed in my class the day Neewo lost his battle with smallpox. Nearly every child can relate to the challenges Omakayas faces with her siblings and the chores she is required to do.
As mentioned in an earlier post, students in my class typically do some handwork while listening to me read a chapter or two. Spontaneously, while listening to one of Nokomis’ stories, students put down their colored pencils and came to sit at my feet, completely enraptured. One child, a newer reader, even stood silently at my side, following along over my shoulder. Almost as if they wanted to be closer to the story. This has not happened since or with any other book. Erdich truly spins magic into each page.