Does CHICKADEE Live Up to its BIRCHBARK HOUSE Predecessors?

by julie swanson

My second review of recently discovered sequels to series I love:

imgres-8Chickadee is the fourth book in Louise Erdrich’s The Birchbark House series, a series which would fans of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House series will probably love. It’s been said The Birchbark House series is the Native American version of those beloved pioneer-times stories. Books in this series include, in order, The Birchbark House, The Game of Silence, The Year of the Porcupine, and now Chickadee.

4 out of 5

Whereas I’d give the first three books in the series 5 out of 5 stars, I rate Chickadee 4 out of 5. Why? Well, for one thing, I felt more closely connected to the main character in the previous stories. In the first three books the main character is a girl named Omakayas, while this latest in the series features Omakayas’s son Chickadee as the protagonist. I don’t think my preference for Omakayas has anything to do with her being a girl; I’ve always enjoyed boy characters as much a girls. I just liked Omakayas, her brother Pinch, and a younger brother her family came to adopt (can’t remember his name), and the dynamics between them all better. Those who are, have, or know twins may enjoy Chickadee, however, because he has a twin brother.

The second thing I preferred about the earlier books is the island/lake setting of those stories. Again, this isn’t necessarily a criticism of anything the author did or didn’t do, but may be more a reflection of my tastes, and the fact that it’s a part of the storyline that Chickadee’s family had to up and leave their island home before they might be forced out.

The third thing that made this a 4 rather than a 5 for me is that I really missed the character of the stoic and hardened-yet-loving old woman named Old Tallow, an important figure in the first three stories. Two Strike (Chickadee’s aunt, who was a wild-child tomboy in the first books) is a strong character who seems ready-made to fill Old Tallow’s shoes, but she doesn’t play as key a role and we don’t see her as up-close or as being as dear a person in the main character’s life. …The same is true of the parents and grandparents, now that I think of it. The only person besides Chickadee I really felt I was allowed to get close to was his Uncle Quill, and even then, he still wasn’t painted quite as warmly as characters in the other books. We just don’t get to know and love people as we did in even just the first story alone. Characters feel a little more distant in this last story. It feels shorter, too, briefer.

Having explained all that, a 4 out of 5 is not at all bad, and I still really enjoyed Chickadee. It’s a warm, sweet story of an extended family’s love, hope, and perseverance.

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