The book I’m featuring this month is the 2013 winner of the Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction: Chickadee by Louise Erdrich, published by Harper Collins in 2012. Chickadee is the fourth book in Erdrich’s Birchbark House Series and is the second one of Erdrich’s works to be given the O’Dell award. Her first O’Dell award was in 2006 for The Game of Silence, book two in the Birchbark House Series. In fact, Erdrich, who belongs to the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa, is the only author to have won the award twice.
In Chickadee, set in the 1860s, a young Anishinabe (Ojibwe/Chippewa) boy named Chickadee and his family live in a forest near the Lake of the Woods in northern Minnesota. A kidnapping forces the family to leave the forest for the Great Plains, causing them to adapt to new ways of life. And with the help of the bird he is named after, Chickadee discovers his own strength and resourcefulness.
History I learned:
1. The Ojibwe. This was the first book, fiction or non-fiction, I think I’ve read about the Ojibwe, who lived in the woods and lakes regions of northern Minnesota. I found it interesting how the Ojibwe family adapted to life on the prairie. For example, in the woods, they would make containers from birchbark, but on the plains they had to make-do with the one wooden bucket they had. Some of the family members also learned how to ride horses so they could join buffalo hunts on the plains.
2. The Metis. They were of both Ojibwe and French-descent and had their own distinct culture.
3. Ox cart trains. Before the railroads came to the frontier, these caravans of ox carts, mostly driven by Metis, brought furs and other goods down to St. Paul to trade and then take back to Pembina (North Dakota). The carts were very noisy. Here is a link to a website that has a sound clip of just one cart. (Scroll down.) Imagine what a line of 200 carts sounded like.
4. Mosquito swarms. At one point, a giant swarm of mosquitos descend on Chickadee, his Uncle Quill, and the ox cart train. It is not an inconvenience. Both humans and oxen are in great danger of being killed . Many of us have experienced mosquitos, but never in such a degree. That is one of the things from the past that I’m glad is gone.
5. Female Ojibwe hunter. An aunt of Chickadee’s is a hunter and warrior. Pretty cool! I had never heard of a North American Native American woman who did that. Have you? Was it common?
Story/writing lesson I learned:
Sometimes it’s okay to buck the trends and/or conventional wisdom in literature. For example, Chickadee’s family is a loving, functional family. I know there are lots of families like that in stories, especially children’s stories, but there are also an awful lot of dysfunctional families. And there should be, to reflect reality and to give a story it’s conflict. However, it was nice to see a loving family.
Another conventional wisdom rule Erdrich broke was to include lots of Ojibwe vocabulary. It did make the story a little harder to read, but the context around the Ojibwe words explained the meaning, and Erdrich includes a glossary at the end of the book.
Finally, Erdrich switches point of view a lot, even within a chapter, and that’s rarely done in children’s books.
I will eventually read Erdrich’s first O’Dell winner, as well as read all the books in her Birchbark House Series. But, in an attempt to alternate between the newer and older winners, for my next O’Dell Challenge post, on May 27, I will feature the 1985 winner, The Fighting Ground by Avi (Lippincott).
Previous posts about my Scott O’Dell Award Challenge:
Have you read Chickadee? What did you learn?