The Birchbark House

By: Michelle, Molly, Rita, and Rachel

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What was the world like at this time? What was daily life like? How was it different from today?

The time period when The Birchbark House takes place was different and harsher. There wasn’t technology, so the kids had to find some other way to entertain themselves. Children were often much more responsible and parents were more trusting. In this book, Omakayas, the main character, who is 7 years old, was allowed to watch a baby with no supervision for more than 1 hour in the woods! Definitely not the same as today! Young children had more difficult chores. Such as scraping moosehide. In the text it says, “In no time at all, that soaking moosehide would be stretched out on a branch frame and she would be required to scrape it.” No one from this generation would be scraping moosehide with a bone to make shoes. There are now more efficient ways to make shoes, like factories. And nobody from today would make or allow a young child to scrape a moose hide. Parents would think the kids would mess it up or it would be too hard. Back then moms and dads had much higher expectations. Another difference was when Omakayas was going to get her mother’s pair of scissors back. “Omakayas’ mother was well known for owning a pair of scissors, and other women were always borrowing it. It was a job she not only liked because she was sometimes given a handful of manomin, rice, or a little chunk of maple sugar.” In this piece of text, it shows that having scissors was rare at that time and it was surprising to own one. Now scissors are not rare at all. It sounded like the woman had to walk a couple of blocks to get a pair of scissors. In this time period you can just get a pair of scissors from your house. Also in the second sentence Omakayas seemed really happy about getting some rice or maple sugar. It is implied that she doesn’t get those often and getting those were like a reward. We still get those things now, but we don’t cherish them. Our idea of a reward is candy or money. And, parents wouldn’t allow a 7 year old to walk a couple of blocks alone in fear that they would get kidnapped. Also a big thing that was a part of the Ojibwa people life were the spirits, or gods. Everybody prayed and made sacrifices for them. The parents often used spirits to make their children feel guilty and do the right thing. The natives thought of everything that happened as a action of the gods. For example, thunder would have been described as the banging of a drum or a footstep.

What are some of the historical references presented in the book you read?

At the time the story The Birchbark House, Europeans were coming to the new world to settle on the land. The settlers were settling on the lands that the Ojibwa and other tribes lived on so they got pushed further west each time. The Native Americans lived in the woods in order to hunt for food, have a source of water, room to grow crops, and hunt animals for food and warmth. They had land for corn, rice, and other crops so they would survive the winter.

Why does the author highlight certain events?

In this book, one event the author chose highlight was winter. She chose to do this because winter was definitely the most difficult season for Omakayas’ family and the other Ojibwa people. They even counted how many winters you survived as how old you were. Omakayas was 7 winters old. Many of the Ojibwa people suffered from the freezing weather and heavy starvation while some of the Ojibwa faced the fear of death. Smallpox was also very vividly highlighted in the story. Lot's of Omakayas’ family members endured the painful smallpox, and poor baby Neewo died from the evil disease. This disease was the “invisible enemy” that a visitor brought with him when visiting the Ojibwa people. Deydey was very strong, but when he got smallpox, he almost went outside and froze himself, but that was before Omakayas tried to stop him. These highlighted events were obstacles in Omakayas’ family’s life and they worked hard to struggle past these harsh times.

Who has power?

In The Birchbark house there two “things” that had power. One was the settlers they took lot’s of the natives land and controlled lots of peoples lives. They would move into the lands and the natives would have to move further west. But there was something much more powerful, smallpox, that is the second power. Small pox could wipe out a full village. In the story the small pox wiped out Omakayas’ friend and little brother. Small pox could wipe out anything if it is not taken care of.


How do characters relate to each other? Who are characters influenced by? Do characters change?

The characters relate to different groups differently. Some of the characters act different to other groups. For example Angeline, Omakayas sister is fond of an Englishman who is a priest. But Omakayas’ grandmother on the other hand says that even if the settlers ways are interesting and you want to “try” their ways if you need them. But the settlers are not trustful. The exact words were “take their ways if you need them. But don’t forget your own. You are an Anishinabe. Your mother and us are wolf clan people…” I think that a big influence for Omakayas is her grandmother she was old and often gave Omakayas advice. Like when in the beginning of the book the mama bear came and put her paws on Omakayas stomach. Afterwards, Nokomis (her grandmother) gave advice to Omakayas about the bears. After Angeline got chicken pox she changed a lot. She was very vain. Part of the reason why she turned vain was that she no longer thought she was pretty since all she cared about was being beautiful. Omakayas changed because in the beginning of the book she was adventurous and care free. But after Neewo died she was so sad that she would barely talk or eat.


How does the problem of the story connect to the setting?

The problem of The Birchbark House is that smallpox is killing everybody. Another problem is surviving the winter .The setting of where the problem was a cold, harsh, winter where the animals were scarce and diseased. This impacted the problem because food sources became less and smallpox was condemning everyone. Smallpox made thousands of people sick and killed some of Omakayas’ friends and family. The winter was the harshest time of the year especially for babies like Neewo. This was because the winter was cold and there was not much food and worst of all, small pox was taking over the Natives.

How does the setting impact a character in historical fiction?