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Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Chickadee, written by Louise Erdrich. Harper, 2012. $15.99 ages 8 and up

"The chickadee shows the Anishinabeg how to live. For instance, he never stores his food all in one place. He makes caches in various places. He never eats all of his food at once. We do that too. The chickadee takes good care of his family. The mother and the father stay with their babies as they fly out into the world. They stick together, like the Anishinabeg."

If you haven't yet found or read Louise Erdrich's wonderful The Birchbark House series, please take the time to look for them. In this latest episode, It's 1866, and Omikayas and her family have moved to live on the Great Plains where they hope find a more peaceful and healthier life. There, they have so much:

"...birchbark for making houses, animals and plants for food, wood for warmth, and cold sparkling water to dip and drink from the lake."

Omikayas and Animikiins also have their hands full with inquisitive and spirited twin sons, Chickadee and Makoons. They are young bundles of energy and eager to know all of their mother's stories. Life is not easy; but, it is fulfilling and loving.  In the midst of the love and hard work, Chickadee likes to be alone at times:

"Chickadee watched his namesake hop from twig to twig in the great stand of sugar maples. He had managed to sneak away from the close watch of his mother. He had evaded his father, ditched his grandmother. He had hidden from his aunt, his uncle, his grandfather, and even his twin. There was nobody to tell him to keep hauling sap from the trees."

When Chickadee is kidnapped by the two brutish sons of Zhigaag, a mean and nasty old man from their camp, it sets in motion a series of events that will have readers quickly turning pages to ensure Chickadee's health and safety. The adventure is fast-paved and has Chickadee facing endless new, and often terrifying, natural hardships: mosquitoes, snakes, cold, heat. He must also learn to eat Bouyah if he wants to survive his captivity with Babiche and Batiste:

Bouyah, bouyah,
it makes a Mischif strong!
Straight to the brain,
he never has to strain.
Fills up his belly,
makes him sweet as jelly!
Makes his hair grow thick!
Makes his mind so quick!
Bouyah!"

This stew is enough to make anyone gag just thinking about eating it. It is daily fare, and further impetus for Chickadee to keep plotting his escape. As they move on day by endless day, he looks to his namesake to give him hope and guide him. He learns Chickadee's lessons well.

The setting is quite remarkable, the action compelling and ever-changing, and the characters are
impeccably drawn. Once started, the reading just kept rolling with my wanting to know more about Omikayas, now grown and with a family of her own. Her search for her son stretches along the Red River Valley and beyond. The family never gives up hope. Chickadee is spiritually connected to his brother throughout all of the hardship he faces. Chickadee is resourceful, resolute and ever mindful of his loving family.

"Small things have great power"  is the lesson of the chickadee and this 'small' book teaches that.

In the ARC that I received the map art was not final. Despite that, I found it most useful as was the glossary and pronunciation guide of Ojibwe terms. This is an absorbing and entertaining standalone from the series, but knowing the back story (the three previous books) is an asset because they, too, are so well written. Now, there's a worthwhile week of reading for you!

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