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The Birchbark House
by Louise Erdrich
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1.Before the first chapter, there were two pages entitled "The Girl from Spirit Island." Did you figure out how that seemingly separate story was going to fit into the overall book? If so, what were your clues?
2.The story takes place 160 years ago in 1847. How is Omakayas like kids today? How is she different?
3.Think about the structure of the book, how it went from one season to the next. Why do you suppose the author chose to write the story in this way?
4.What are some differences between the way Omakayas's family lives in the summer and how they live in the winter?
5.How does this book compare with other stories or nonfiction books about Native American people that you have read?
6.Omakayas thinks her little brother Pinch is annoying and greedy. Do you have a little brother or sister? Tell us how he or she is like Pinch.
7.How does the discovery of her past affect Omakayas? How do you think you would react if you found out you were adopted?
8.How does Omakayas change from the beginning to the end of the book?
9.Grandma (Nokomis) sees in Omakayas that she has the possibility of being a great healer, so she plans to teach Omakayas what she knows about medicine. Have you had a grandmother or grandfather teach anything special to you? What was it?
10.Minnesota has some wild weather. How did the weather affect Omakayas's family? And how does it affect your own family?
11.Omakayas has an older sister named Angeline. She envies her older sister and wants very much to be like her. Do you have an older sister or brother? Tell us how she or he is like Angeline.
12.What is the affect of white people on the lives of the Ojibwa people in this story?
13.Except for Angeline, who chooses to go to the mission school to learn the language of white people, the children don't have to go to school. But they do have to do a lot of work to do, most of the time. Would you rather go to school or do the kind of work the Ojibwa children have to do? Why?
14.Omakayas did not like having to do most of her chores. Which of her chores would you like to do? Which wouldn't you want to do? Why?
15.Do you have a pet? Compare how your pet fits into your family with the way that Andeg the crow fit into Omakayas's family.
16.Omakayas seemed to have some kind of spiritual connection with the bears. Why do you think many Native Americans feel connected to particular animals?
17.Were you scared when Omakayas first ran into the bears? And what did you think might happen?
18.People from many different religions have Creation stories. What did you think about Omakayas's grandmother's story of how the earth was created? (See page 172 if you don't remember.)
19.Grandma (Nokomis) and Deydey tell stories about the Ojibwa people. Which story did you like best? Why?
20.The Ojibwa people harvest wild rice in the fall and maple syrup in the spring. The author carefully describes these and other foods that the Ojibwa eat. Which food described in this book would you like best? Why?
21.Minnesota wildlife -- such as the bears, the crow, and the one-horned deer -- are a natural part of the lives of the Ojibwa people. How do the animals affect the Native Americans' beliefs?
22.Old Tallow and Grandma (Nokomis) are very powerful older women. How did these women fit into Omakayas's family? And how does this compare to how we treat older people today?
23.Why do you think the Ojibwa people believed in ghosts and spirits?
24.This book had many deaths: Omakayas's little brother Neewo, her sister's friend Ten Snow, the yellow dog that attacked Omakayas, One Horn the deer. Which one was the hardest to read about? Why?
25.If your whole family was terribly sick, do you think you would you go to stay with them as Omakayas did, even if it meant you might get sick and even die with them? Why or why not?
26.What did you think about the crow Andeg learning to say "Gaygo" which means "Stop that" and "Ahneen" which is a greeting? What about when the family friend Albert LaPautre told his story about running into this "talking" bird?
27.Have you ever eaten wild rice? If so, what did you think about it?
28.Deydey's grandfather was French, but he was raised and considered himself Ojibwa. How do you think some other Ojibwa people may have felt about him being part white? Why?
29.Grandma (Nokomis) tells Omakayas that the island they live on is a drum for the thunder beings. When there is a big storm, the thunder beings are banging on the drums. What other stories have you heard to describe thunderstorms?
30.Omakayas is an Ojibwa word that means Little Frog. We learn that Omakayas gets her name because her first step was a hop. Neewo's name means "fourth," because he was the fourth child. Does your name mean something in another language? Or what do you suppose your name should be if you were named in the Ojibwa language?
31.Omakayas uses her new sewing skills to make makazins for her little brother Neewo because she loves him so much. She uses her new healing skills to help her little brother Pinch when his feet are burned, even though she shared more than once that she wished something bad would happen to Pinch. Why do you suppose she helps him when he is hurt?
32.Omakayas tells her Grandma (Nokomis) that she heard plant medicines "talking" to her. What do you suppose she meant?
33.When the visitor came and made many of the Ojibwa people sick with smallpox, what did you think was going to happen? Why?
34.Omakayas lets her little brother Neewo out of his cradleboard one time, even though she is not supposed to. Was it the right thing to do? Why or why not?
35.After losing her baby brother to smallpox, Omakayas is very depressed and seems to not have the will to go on. What are the things that help her to heal her heart?
36.What was one thing you learned about Ojibwa culture from this book that you did not know before?
37.What parts of this story do you think are based on historical fact, and what parts are based on the author's imagination?
38.Did you like the drawings made by the author in this book? Why or why not? And do you have a favorite illustration?
39.What things or people were important in Omakayas's life? Why?
40.Do you think people still get smallpox today? Why or why not?
41.How did you feel when Omakayas's mother, Yellow Kettle, got angry with the crow Andeg when it was really her little brother Pinch who ate the chokecherries?
42.What do you suppose it would be like to live in a house made of birchbark in the summer in Minnesota? How about living in a log cabin in the winter?
43.Angeline learns the letters of the white people's language. What do you think it might have been like to learn a written language if you never had one before?
44.Did you have a favorite Ojibwa word in the book? If so, what is it, and why do you like it?
45.There is an author's note at the end of the book about the Ojibwa language. Did you find it challenging to read words from another language? Did you look up words in the glossary at the back of the book? Why or why not?
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