Continuing the series that began with The Birchbark House, The Game of Silence and The Porcupine Year, Chickadee follows a brand new character, Omakayas’s grandson Chickadee.
It’s 1866 and just like the bird that is his namesake, Chickadee is small and clever. When Chickadee’s twin brother pranks Shigaag, the tribe’s ne’er-do-well, Shigaag’s unruly, bumbling sons kidnap Chickadee as revenge. He’s taken farther from home than he’s ever been. But Chickadee is not afraid because he remembers the saying his grandmother taught him: small things have great power. To find his way back to his home and his family, Chickadee must make a daring escape, forge unlikely friendships and set out on the most exciting and dangerous journey he’s ever taken.
This story of Chickadee and his family is based on Louise Erdrich’s own family history.
“Chickadee”, the latest in Erdrich’s Birchbark House series, introduces us to twins Chickadee and Makoons. They are mischievous and energetic, and completely devoted to each other. However, their high spirits land them in trouble when a prank goes awry and Chickadee is stolen away from his brother and family to be a servant. Determined to find each other, both Chickadee and his mourning family set out to find their way back to each other, encountering missionaries, fur trappers, new settlements and even the spirits of the ancients as they make their way home.
The characters within this book are richly drawn, and you become very attached to Chickadee throughout the book. I felt anxious for him when he was taken by the missionaries (perhaps triggering the news stories of some of the horrors of residential schools), and cheered for him when he successfully navigated his way along the path towards his family. He grows and matures during the time of this book, and it’s fascinating to see how he becomes an individual in addition to a twin. By the time he reconnects with his family (spoiler!), he is more confident and self-aware, and he is ready to become a contributing member of his extended family. Makoons suffers greatly with the loss of his twin; he is less clearly defined, but the connection between the two is unmistakable.
One of the distinctive elements of this series lies in Erdrich’s extensive research and attention to detail about life for First Nations families, in this case during the events of 1866. Her portrayals are vivid and descriptive, and help the reader to easily picture themselves within the scene. The student I read with found the description of the mail delivery system absolutely fascinating and giggled at (while being a little put off by) the bouyah made and served by Chickadee to the brothers. Speaking of which, the brothers provide some much-needed comic relief at times, and while they may be harsh and rough, they are also very funny. Students will also love how Chickadee becomes more self-reliant, finding food and traveling long distances on his own.
As the adult, I appreciated how Chickadee began to use the lessons taught to him by his family for survival, and how he connected with his namesake in order to find his way home. I also loved the glimpses of characters from past books – reconnecting with them to find out how they were doing was part of the joy of the story. The importance of family was paramount, and I appreciated how the entire family quite literally moved across the territory in order to find the missing boy. This led to some great discussions with my young reader, as she was amazed that the family would consider pulling up roots in order to find Chickadee.
In “Chickadee”, Erdrich has written richly detailed tale of survival and family that will delight and entice readers both young and old. If you have not read the other books in this series, I highly recommend that you seek them out from the sources below when you purchase this book; the entire series is a delight and should not be missed.
“Chickadee” was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. “Chickadee” is published by Harper Children, a division of HarperCollins, and may be purchased at Indigo, Amazon, and your friendly indie bookstore. ISBN: 9780060577902, 208 pages.