Julie A. Swanson

Purer and Purer Streams…

Category: middle grade books

Does CHICKADEE Live Up to its BIRCHBARK HOUSE Predecessors?

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.


Our Only May Amelia


Our Only May Amelia by Jennifer Holm is a story set in 1899 about a girl growing up in the state of Washington. She has seven older brothers and no sisters. She’s not only the only girl in her pioneering Finnish family (besides her mama), but the only girl ever born in their settlement. They live along a river where she and her brothers work, play, fish, explore, and encounter all sorts of outdoor adventures in their logging/fishing/farming community. May Amelia has a very hard time behaving or dressing like the proper young lady her family expects her to be. Maybe it would be easier if there were at least one other girl around, she thinks. Her secret wish is for a sister. And then Mama gets pregnant. Maybe she really will get a baby… Let’s just say this is a great story, wonderful setting, wonderful main character. It’s one of my all-time favorite tomboy novels.

The sequel to this story, The Trouble with May Amelia, came out in 2011.  just discovered it in doing this post and looking up the cover image for Our Only May Amelia, but I can’t wait to read it now.


Jennifer Holm is the award winning author of several middle grade and YA books I’ve enjoyed, including Boston Jane and the other books in the Boston Jane trilogy (as well as Newberry Honor Book Penny from Heaven).

The Birchbark House Series

I love this middle grade series by Louise Erdich–The Birchbark House, The Game of Silence, and The Year of the Porcupine. It’s the Native American equivalent of The Little House Series by Laura Ingalls Wilder. In fact, I may like this series better than the Little House stories, and that’s high praise. Even if the stories weren’t set not far from where I grew up in Michigan (and even nearer to where I just was this past weekend for a family funeral, by coincidence), I would still love them. They are so sweet, have so much heart, great characters, wonderful setting. Louise Erdich did her own charming black-and-white sketch illustrations, too.

I read each new book as soon as it came out, and it was hard to wait because a couple years went by in between books. They are the kind of stories you never want to end, and yet you care so much about the characters that you just have to keep going to see what happens to them, …but then you kick yourself because you don’t want to leave them, or their place, their island home.

Just tonight I discovered that there’s a fourth book in the series (Chickadee) that came out in August of this year! A book I knew nothing about (which is just as well because then I wasn’t impatient for it). But now that I know about it, I can’t wait to read it, too.

I also saw tonight that Louise Erdrich has a new adult novel that came out October 2, called The Round House,  another National Book Award finalist (as The Birchbark House was) and it’s getting rave reviews. Amazon.com Review says, “Likely to be dubbed the Native American To Kill a Mockingbird…” Can’t wait to read this one either!

Dairy Queen

The YA novel Dairy Queen, by Catherine Gilbert Murdock was a refreshing find for me when it came out (2006). It’s Tomboy Jock Lit at its best. I really enjoyed it and found the main character, D.J. Schwenk, to be  an endearing original who I hated to leave at the end of the story.

So I was glad when Catherine Gilbert Murdock wrote two more books featuring the same main character–The Off Season (2007), and Front and Center (2009). Read the rest of this entry »