Select one of the keywords
The Porcupine Year    by Louise Erdrich order for
Porcupine Year
by Louise Erdrich
Order:  USA  Can
HarperCollins, 2008 (2008)
* * *   Reviewed by J. A. Kaszuba Locke

The Porcupine Year is Louise Erdrich's sequel to The Birchbark House and The Game of Silence, in a continuing saga of an Ojibwe family's struggle to survive. The year is 1852 and the Native Americans have left their homes as the United States Government made way for European settlers. The 'great father in Washington' talked of making 'one big home for all ... over near the land of the Bwaan'.

Deydey does not trust the edict, nor promises of government agents. Fearing language barriers, the possibility of fighting, and scarcity of food, the family adults gather to discuss alternatives. Their inclination now is to travel North to join relatives in Canada at Lac du Bois, even if they have to face an unruly brother-in-law.

Twelve-winters old Omakayas and her young brother Pinch attempt night hunting without family permission. Omakayas maneuvers the canoe by torch light and Pinch spots the 'glowing eyes of a buck deer onshore'. As he aims his bow, the arrow falls short of the target, he loses his balance and falls into the river. When he blames his sister for the mishap, Omakayas reminds Pinch of Deydey's wisdom: 'A good hunter never blames another for a missed shot.'

Pinch pulls himself back into the canoe, just as the current gets stronger, and they're 'tugged into the confluence of two rivers'. The sound of roaring rapids grows louder, as they paddle for their lives. Somehow they reach shore, knowing they've been blessed by help from the spirits. On the opposite bank, they see a small figure dressed in buckskins and knee-high makizinan. Omakayas and Quill realize they were honored by memegwesi, who mostly appear to children because of their open hearts and eyes.

The next morning Pinch spots an animal in a tree and decides they can at least have porcupine soup to satiate their hunger. The menu changes to fish after the baby porcupine covers Pinch with quills. As they approach the family camp - the porcupine having made its home on top of Pinch's head - they hear wailing. They soon learn that the wailing is for them. Always ready for fun, Pinch and Omakayas cover themselves with flour. Though a few family members scream, the ploy is soon realized and all begin to laugh.

As the Ojibwe journey, they are raided by a group headed by brother-in-law Albert La Paarte. Everything they had gathered for trading, and supplies to keep their stomachs full, is taken. 'The dreadful cannibal spirit of the wiindigoo was on the land, the spirit that drove people mad with hunger as it hid the animals and put the fish to sleep. They could all feel its bitter breath.'

It's a steady-paced story, as Omakayas, Pinch (called Quill since the porcupine episode), and family continue their journey Northward. Even the pet porcupine proves itself a brave warrior, when the time comes. Erdrich's finely-sketched, expressive black-and-white illustrations accompany gently flowing words such as: 'a blanket of yellow butterflies ... Thousands of wings had fluttered down on them by night, and as the sun rose and warmed the creatures they skipped everywhere'.

The Porcupine Year is a warm, informative, yet dramatic story based on historical events, perfectly suited for the targeted group (ages eight through twelve). A Glossary and Pronunciation Guide of Ojibwe Terms accompanies the Author's Note on the Ojibwe Language. The original name for the Ojibwe (or Chippewa) people is Anishinabe. The Ojibwe reservations are currently found in the Northern States and in Canada.

Note: Opinions expressed in reviews and articles on this site are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of BookLoons.

Find more Kids books on our Shelves or in our book Reviews