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The Porcupine Year (Birchbark House Series #3)

The Porcupine Year (Birchbark House Series #3)

4.4 47
by Louise Erdrich

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Here follows the story of a most extraordinary year in the life of an Ojibwe family and of a girl named "Omakayas," or Little Frog, who lived a year of flight and adventure, pain and joy, in 1852.

When Omakayas is twelve winters old, she and her family set off on a harrowing journey. They travel by canoe westward from the


Here follows the story of a most extraordinary year in the life of an Ojibwe family and of a girl named "Omakayas," or Little Frog, who lived a year of flight and adventure, pain and joy, in 1852.

When Omakayas is twelve winters old, she and her family set off on a harrowing journey. They travel by canoe westward from the shores of Lake Superior along the rivers of northern Minnesota, in search of a new home. While the family has prepared well, unexpected danger, enemies, and hardships will push them to the brink of survival. Omakayas continues to learn from the land and the spirits around her, and she discovers that no matter where she is, or how she is living, she has the one thing she needs to carry her through.

Richly imagined, full of laughter and sorrow, The Porcupine Year continues Louise Erdrich's celebrated series, which began with The Birchbark House, a National Book Award finalist, and continued with The Game of Silence, winner of the Scott O'Dell Award for Historical Fiction.

Editorial Reviews

Children's Literature - Vicki Foote
This third book of the series follows the story of a year in the life of Omakayas, a young Native American girl in 1852. Omakayas and her Ojibwe family have to move because of European settlers. They search for a new home and face difficulties but still make progress as they use their skills and the natural resources of the land. The story opens with an exciting chapter in which Omakayas and her brother, Pinch, are caught in the river current in their canoe. After they are swept out of their canoe, they have to fend for themselves until they are able to find their way back. Pinch acquires a porcupine that becomes his pet and enjoys sitting on Pinch's head. Many of their adventures are serious, such as when their father is blinded by black powder but later regains his sight, and then another member of the family, Tallow, loses her life in a fight with a bear. There are small black-and-white illustrations by the author throughout the book. An author's note about the Ojibwe language is included along with a glossary and pronunciation guide of Ojibwe terms. This story is interesting reading and provides a realistic look at the lives of the Ojibwe during those historical times. Reviewer: Vicki Foote
KLIATT - Janis Flint-Ferguson
Readers of Louise Erdrich's books The Birchbark House and The Game of Silence will be thrilled to once again spend time with the Ojibway tribe in northern Minnesota. Forced from their home by the westward movement of European settlers, Omayaka's family is hoping to meet up with relatives, gathering what they will need to survive the coming winter, and avoiding warring tribes. Along the way, her brother makes friends with a porcupine—a porcupine that in fact saves the lives of the two young people. The porcupine curls up on her brother's head and becomes both a cap and a calendar for the family as they struggle to prepare for the winter after being horribly betrayed by a trapper they trusted. They do the best they can to build a shelter and to wrap themselves together against the fierce winter snows. It is only through an instinctual will to survive and the unselfishness of Old Tallow, the woman who had long ago rescued Omayaka, that the family is able to see their way through the winter and to their journey's end. The story is filled with Native American tales, traditions and customs as Omayaka grows toward adulthood and her people grow into a new existence. The novel reinforces for readers the strength and importance of family within a culture that lovingly cared for the land we now share. Reviewer: Janis Flint-Ferguson
School Library Journal

Gr 5-8

This sequel to The Birchbark House (Hyperion, 1999) and The Game of Silence (HarperCollins, 2005) continues the story of Omakayas, an Ojibwe girl who in 1852 is now 12 winters old. She and her family have been displaced by the United States government and are looking for a new place to live. When Omakayas and her younger brother become separated from their family during a night hunting expedition, Pinch has a run-in with a porcupine that he decides to keep as his medicine animal. The little gaag does indeed seem to bring them good fortune for a time, and Pinch is thereafter known as Quill. As Omakayas's extended family travels north toward Lac du Bois, where Mama's sister has settled, Erdrich's resonant descriptions of their day-to-day experiences give the narrative a graceful flow. The peaceful rhythms are all too quickly broken, however, when a party of Bwaanag captures two of their men. Soon after, Auntie Muskrat's no-good husband, Albert LaPautre, leads a raid on the small group, making off with all of their provisions, leaving them destitute as the winter months approach. The family finally reaches the big lake, and as they learn to find their places in the larger group, Omakayas must come to terms with her transition to womanhood. The events in this installment will both delight and appall readers. While the novel can stand alone, it will call new readers to catch up on the first two installments. Erdrich's charming pencil drawings interspersed throughout and her glossary of Ojibwe terms round out a beautiful offering.-Kim Dare, Fairfax County Public Schools, VA

Kirkus Reviews
This third entry in the Birchbark House series takes Omakayas and her family west from their home on the Island of the Golden-Breasted Woodpecker, away from land the U.S. government has claimed. Difficulties abound; the unknown landscape is fraught with danger, and they are nearing hostile Bwaanag territory. Omakayas's family is not only close, but growing: The travelers adopt two young chimookoman (white) orphans along the way. When treachery leaves them starving and alone in a northern Minnesota winter, it will take all of their abilities and love to survive. The heartwarming account of Omakayas's year of travel explores her changing family relationships and culminates in her first moon, the onset of puberty. It would be understandable if this darkest-yet entry in Erdrich's response to the Little House books were touched by bitterness, yet this gladdening story details Omakayas's coming-of-age with appealing optimism. The journey is even gently funny-Omakayas's brother spends much of the year with a porcupine on his head. Charming and enlightening. (Historical fiction. 9-11)
"The struggle to survive provides the exciting action in this sequel to The Birchbark House (1999) and The Game of Silence (2005), which takes place in 1852. What is left unspoken is as powerful as the story told."
New York Times Book Review
“Erdrich is a talented storyteller. She has created a world, fictional but real: absorbing, funny, serious, and convincingly human.”
Booklist (starred review)
“The struggle to survive provides the exciting action in this sequel to The Birchbark House (1999) and The Game of Silence (2005), which takes place in 1852. What is left unspoken is as powerful as the story told.”
New York Times Book Review on The Game of Silence
“Erdrich is a talented storyteller. She has created a world, fictional but real: absorbing, funny, serious, and convincingly human.”

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Birchbark House Series , #3
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Sales rank:
File size:
2 MB
Age Range:
8 - 12 Years

Read an Excerpt

The Porcupine Year

Chapter One

Night Hunting

Bekaa! Bekaa!

Omakayas froze and held tight to her paddle with one hand. She was trying to keep the canoe absolutely still while her younger brother, Pinch, balanced with his bow and arrow. With the other hand she held a torch of flaming pine pitch. Wait, higher! Omakayas and her brother had inched close to an old buck deer onshore. Eyes glowing, it gazed, curious and still, into the light of their torch. Omakayas's arm ached, trying to keep the canoe braced in the river's current. But she heard the faint high-pitched creak of the bow as her brother drew back the string and arrow, and she did not move one muscle, even when a drop of blistering pitch fell onto her arm. Tsssip! Tonggg! The arrow flew, the bowstring quivered.

Hiyn! Hiyn! Aaargh!

As the deer crashed through the trees, Pinch shouted in rage and disappointment.

"Your fault! You let us drift!"

Pinch dropped his bow with a clatter and jerked around to blame his sister, rocking the boat. Indignant and offended, Omakayas relaxed her arms. The canoe swerved, the torch wavered, and over the edge went Pinch. His thunking splash resounded through the trees onshore and made further night hunting worthless. Pinch came up spouting water—late spring runoff. The icy cold doused some of his heat, but he was still mad and ready to fight, especially once Omakayas hooted at him, laughing at the way he had gone over the side, arms out, flailing. She put out the torch with a hiss and expertly guided the canoe just out of his reach. Although they were allowed to go out night hunting, they were notsupposed to go far from their family's camp.

"My fault, 'na? Do you want a ride or not?"

Pinch tried to lunge through the water at her, but Omakayas paddled just beyond his grasp.

"Remember what Deydey said? A good hunter never blames another for a missed shot."

Pinch stopped, treading water, his dark round head just barely visible in the moonlight. All of a sudden, he was tugged farther downstream.


Pinch yelled in surprise just as Omakayas felt the canoe move toward him, as though propelled by an unseen hand.

"Watch out, the current's. . ." His words were swept off. Although Omakayas dug her paddle into the water, stroking backward, the canoe sped smoothly along, so fast that she caught up to Pinch immediately. Desperate to save him now, she stretched and held out the paddle for him to grasp. He pulled himself in, seriously frightened, and scrambled for his own paddle. But the moment had cost them and now the current was even stronger, ripping along the bank. The river abruptly widened and there was no question of turning around—all they could do was desperately try to slow and guide themselves away from the knots and snags of uprooted trees in the river's flow. These would loom suddenly, only faintly lighted by the moon. The great floating trees were moving too, Omakayas and Pinch realized. Slower and more grandly, perhaps, but they were only half hooked together. They were dangerous structures in what had become a singing flood. The children soon realized that they'd been tugged into the confluence of two rivers. Theirs had been slow and meandering, but the second river was carrying spring debris from a powerful rain far upstream. Not only that, but as they swept through the dark faster and faster they heard, ahead, the unmistakable roar of a rapids.

No sooner did they hear the rapids, and cry out, than the canoe leaped forward like a live thing.

There was no thinking. All went dark. They were rushing through the night on water they couldn't navigate, past invisible rocks, between black shores. All they could do was swallow their screams and paddle for their lives. Paddle with a wild strength they never knew they had between them. Omakayas felt the cold breath of the rocks as their canoe swept inches from a jagged edge, a monstrous jutting lip, a pointing finger of rough stone. As she paddled she cried out for the rocks, the asiniig, to guide them. Asked them in her mind and then called out again. They seemed to hear her. Even in the dark, she could see the rocks suddenly, areas of greater density and weight. Now she flew past them with a flick of her paddle. Steered by instinct. They hissed in her ears and she shifted balance, evaded. Their canoe didn't seem to touch the water. It was as though it had sprouted wings and was shooting down the rapids like a hawk swooping from the sky—and they landed the way a hawk would, too. Brought up in a sudden eddy. An upsweep of calm. But no sooner had they taken a breath than they were snatched back into the roar.

This time, the rapids sent them through a dark tunnel that seemed timeless, blind, malevolent. A yawning throat of water. The paddles flew from their grip. They twirled and spun in a sickening vortex. Moonless, mindless, they could only hold each other in the bottom of the canoe and wait for death.

As they held each other, falling or flying, Omakayas's one regret was that she'd laughed at Pinch as he fell from the canoe.

"I'm sorry," she cried out. He must have heard her because he yelled in grief and terror, "My sister, I'm sorry, too!"

Even in the chaos, Omakayas was amazed, trying to remember if Pinch had ever apologized to her before. But then the water threw them at each other like two young buffalo—they butted heads and saw winking lights, then nothing. Only blackness.

There was a sudden, eerie silence.

"Are we dead?" Pinch's voice quavered.

The blackness was so intense they could almost touch it. They were now hardly moving. They still held tightly to the sides of the canoe, but the water had suddenly. . .

The Porcupine Year. Copyright © by Louise Erdrich. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Meet the Author

Louise Erdrich is the author of fifteen novels as well as volumes of poetry, children’s books, short stories, and a memoir of early motherhood. Her novel The Round House won the National Book Award for Fiction. The Plague of Doves won the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, and her debut novel, Love Medicine, was the winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award. Erdrich has received the Library of Congress Prize in American Fiction, the prestigious PEN/Saul Bellow Award for Achievement in American Fiction, and the Dayton Literary Peace Prize. She lives in Minnesota with her daughters and is the owner of Birchbark Books, a small independent bookstore.

Brief Biography

Minneapolis, Minnesota
Date of Birth:
June 7, 1954
Place of Birth:
Little Falls, Minnesota
B.A., Dartmouth College, 1976; M.A., Johns Hopkins University, 1979

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Porcupine Year (Turtleback School & Library Binding Edition) 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 32 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Eventually I realized that this book was for children or young adults. But I was enjoying it so much and I learned a lot. Great story. The storyline recognizes suffering and peoples weakness but celebrates nobility.
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Im locked out of everything!
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TeensReadToo More than 1 year ago
Omakayas, or Little Frog, is now twelve winters old. Her family, members of the Ojibwe tribe, have been forced from their homes on the Island of the Golden-Breasted Woodpecker, and are now making the long journey to Lac Du Bois, where members of her extended family are living.

Omakayas and her family face many hardships throughout their journey. Omakayas and her brother, Quill, are almost killed in the rushing waters of a swollen river; their provisions for winter are stolen by an evil French trapper; and Old Tallow, Omakayas' elder, dies in a battle with a bear. Omakayas also becomes a woman during the hard winter they endure in the forest.

Through all of this, Omakayas discovers first love, the great power of storytelling, and her own inner strength.

THE PORCUPINE YEAR is the third installment in Erdrich's series of Omakayas and her family. Those who have read the first two novels will be happily reunited with the main character and follow her on new adventures. The chapters are short and flow well together. The illustrations also add to the humor and drama of the story.

Erdrich states in her author's note that Omakayas' story will continue into a fourth novel set in the 1860's. I am sure fans of the series will be excited to see what becomes of Omakayas as she continues her journey into adulthood.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
"One of your cats came to the clan i used to belong to and said you were beinh attacked. Whats with this was there a battle?"-starclan cat articblaze
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
WHAT WHAT SOME CAT SAID THIS CLAN NEEDED HELP. I am from dawn clan. Some one said they needed our help. But i was here and fast. If you need something i will be in my room at crystal moon first result.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I am a gray she cat with golden eyes ~mystic
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Lakeshine, Clawface wants to talk to u at New Moon result 1 ~Snowviper
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
She yelped as wolfpaw hit her. Hey! She snarled. Look out where you're going! ~Sorrelbird~
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The GOA's coming, if they haven't already!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Hey want to play mossball
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Hello? There is no results in earth star 1997!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Walks out of the med den feeling a lot better walks ove to earthstar and blackkit and said hi guyes
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Pads in and picks up dovekit. She walks away slowly saying, "I do rp, but not on a Birchbark House series book! You should be ashamed!" Takes dovekit to poppet result two.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Help!I am about to have kits ANY MOMENT NOW! PLUS I REALLY NEED A CLAN. HELP!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Can I my name could be daggerclaw
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Did you have a daughter named tigerjay?