The Porcupine Year

by Louise Erdrich

Other authorsLouise Erdrich (Illustrator)
Paperback, 2010

Call number



HarperCollins (2010), Edition: Reprint, 224 pages


In 1852, forced by the United States government to leave their beloved Island of the Golden Breasted Woodpecker, fourteen-year-old Omokayas and her Ojibwe family travel in search of a new home.

User reviews

LibraryThing member shelf-employed
The Porcupine Year, sequel to The Birchbark House and The Game of Silence, continues the adventures of an Anishinabe, or Ojibwe girl, Omakayas (Little Frog). In The Porcupine Year, so named for the porcupine “medicine animal” that befriends Omakayas’ brother, Omakayas is now twelve years old
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and is traveling with her family in 1852. The U.S. government is moving the native people ever westward, and Omakayas’ family hopes to join their relatives somewhere northwest of their homeland in current-day Minnesota.

In third person narration, The Porcupine Year recounts a year in the lives of the Anishinabe family. True to the Native American view of life as a circle, the book begins in spring and ends full-circle in the following spring. During that time, Omakaya’s annoying younger brother, Pinch, matures into a resourceful boy named Quill, Omakayas herself, earns a new name, Leading Thunderbird Woman, and the family endures hardship and adventure on the trail west. Native American culture is woven seamlessly into the story, and is experienced through context, rather than explanation. When Omakayas and Pinch narrowly survive a trip through dangerous rapids, the reader completely understands the symbolism behind Omakayas’ decision to leave her precious red beads on a rock by the river as a gesture of thankfulness. Native words are sprinkled liberally throughout the story, but few will send readers to the included glossary,

“’We should continue north, giiwedin,’ said Old Tallow. ‘Few chimookomanag have made their homes in the great woods and lakes. We don’t want them to kick us out again!’

‘I still think that my brother might come through this way,’ said Deydey. ‘This is our old stomping ground. We hunted here long ago, But now…’

‘Game is getting scarce.’

‘There is always good fishing on this lake. But I think we are camped close to the big path of our enemies, the Bwaanag. If their warriors come across us on their way back to their homes, after a raid – mad that they got nothing, howah! – we’d be in big trouble.’”

Native culture is also evident in the respect that Omakayas and the other children have for their elders. The Porcupine Year, is not, however, a novel that merely glorifies the Indian way of life and excoriates the Whites. Rather, Porcupine Year is an honest novel that treats each person individually. Although the whites are understandably blamed for the Anishinabe’s forced migration, the family readily takes in two white children that have been left homeless orphans after a fire. Omakayas’ father is half-white himself. Later, it is a relative from their own tribe that steals from Little Frog’s family, and members of the fierce Bwaanag tribe that kidnap members of the family. As in all cultures, there are good and evil people, and Erdrich does not shy from presenting both types.

Overall, however, The Porcupine Year is not a Native American story, it is the story of a girl…

a girl with a darling baby brother, a girl in a budding romance with a local boy, a girl seeking the approval of her father, a girl with a stern but loving mother, a pesky younger brother, a doting grandmother and a mean-spirited cousin. In short, a girl like any other girl - a girl that readers will understand.

The Porcupine Year is not as deep and soul-searching as the multiple award-winning, Birchbark House, but its faster pace and shorter length (193 pages) makes it more accessible to younger or less-avid readers. The Porcupine Year can easily be read on its own, without its prequels. Some Native American legends are included as stories within the story; a glossary of Ojibwe words and author’s notes conclude the book. Pencil illustrations are by the author. Highly recommended for fans of adventure, historical fiction, coming-of-age, and Native American books. Grades 5 and up.
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LibraryThing member chstress
This story is the third in a series which takes you on a tramatic journey with Omalayas and her family as they are pushed westward by the settlers. Erdrich takes the reader on a trek of discovery, and into the culture of these Native American people. The story is interlaced with the life and
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culture of the Ojibwe's who lived in the mid-1800s. This is one of the few books that I have read that describes in detail, the lives and culture of a Native American people living through the push west. Erdrich uses a brilliant style of writing, especially with the quotes made by Omakkayas and her family, she makes it seem as though the people are standing right in front of you talking. This book is very easy to get caught up in. I recommend this book to anyone who is interested in learning about Native Americans.

This book would be perfect for that first book report for a 9 -12 old when school starts up in the fall. Look for this book after its release date of Sept 2, 2008.
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LibraryThing member delphica
(#6 in the 2009 Book Challenge)

Lovely, lovely story about an Ojibwe family living in the mid-19th century who are migrating westward as American settlers are slowing encroaching on traditional native lands. This is the third in a series. They're compared a lot to the Little House books, and there
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is something satisfying about seeing roughly the same era from the point of view of Native people. The illustrations even have a Garth Williams feel to them. Most of the action is from the view of 12 year old Omakayas, and includes fun and light-hearted moments as well as the more serious hardships faced by the Ojibwe. Even though there is a lot of good and interesting information about how this particular Indian tribe lived, it always feels easy to relate Omakayas's experiences to things that might happen in any family. After reading this book, I was so attached to the porcupine that I'm now having separation anxiety. There was one small detail that is simply nagging at me though, and it says more about me than the book I'm sure ... but at one point Omakayas is holding her baby brother and he is described as limp like a noodle. Would an Ojibwe person in 1850 have any experience with noodles? Enough to use them in a simile? This seriously kept me up at night.

Grade: A-
Recommended: To fans of the Little House books and people who like American historical fiction. I would say that people who like Erdrich's adult literature would enjoy seeing what she does with a children's series.
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LibraryThing member CarmellaLee
Personal Response: I enjoyed this book by Louise Erdrich about the Ojibwe family and Omakayas with all their challenges and triumphs. Looking forward to reading more of this author's books.

Curricular or Programming Connections: Curriculum to study/discuss the Obijawa Indians and their cultures and
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traditions and how they relate to other Indian tribes.
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LibraryThing member bluemopitz
Great sequel to the Birchbark House and the Game of Silence. This book has a great flow and was fun to read. The hardships that befall the family are heartbreaking, but their strong spirits triumph in the face of disaster. I especially enjoyed Pinch/Quill in this book. His medicine animal the
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porcupine provided some needed laughs. This could be used in curriculum about Native American life in the 1800s, forced evacuation of Native people, or coming of age stories.
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LibraryThing member ginaolivas
Summary: "The Porcupine Year" told a story of a little girl named Omakayas. In the beginning her and her brother get into some trouble when the rapids of a river take them to a place where they have to fend for themselves. The brother and sister make it back to their village. The family then must
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look for a permanent home that is safer and more permanent. While the family looks for this home they run into many obstacles but they stick together. Omakayas learns of her own great strengths during their journey.
Personal reaction: This was a very insirational story about a young girl with the heart of a lion. She shows courage and has faith in herself to do anything. The art in the book was few and far between but they compliment the story.
Classroom Extention Ideas: Using this book to introduce a culture lesson would be a great use. This book would also make a great lesson about family and self confidence.
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LibraryThing member satyridae
At times hilarious and at others harrowing, this third book in the Birchbark House series is really good. Pinch/Quill comes into his own here as something other than the annoying little brother, and Omakayas is a teenager. The multi-generational family is limned adequately, but I would have liked
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more backstory. I loved finally hearing Old Tallow's story, though.
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LibraryThing member joeydag
Little Frog comes of age. Her family overcomes terrible misfortune. I am impressed with the author's ability to weave such tales of Native American bravery in the face of such adversity.
LibraryThing member JoanAxthelm
A well written account of the coming of age of a young Ojibwe girl during the 1850's, when rights to land and a traditional way of life were being challenged by the encroaching white settlers.

Lexile: 840
LibraryThing member Grace.Van.Moer
Third book in a series about a young Anishinabe girl and her family. In this book the family is forced to leave their home on Madeline Island in Lake Superior and travel to Lake of the Woods in far northern Minnesota. The family faces many challenges - kidnapping by a neighboring tribe, betrayal
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and theft of all their possessions by a trusted family member, starvation and death. The author does an excellent job of portraying the harsh realities of their life, but includes many true to life situations as well - sibling rivalry, young love, joyful family moments.
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LibraryThing member sweetiegherkin
An American Indian family goes through many trials as they most move to a new home in the mid-1800s.

I picked this title up because I've enjoyed Erdrich's books for adults in the past and wanted to try one of her books for children. Somehow I missed the obvious note on the cover that this was part
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of a series. However, like with her books for adults, this book stood alone just fine; I did not feel like I was missing out by not having read the previous two books.

Some time has passed between when I finished reading this book and now that I'm finally sitting down to write a review. My memory is terrible for the details, but I recall that I quite enjoyed the book and read it pretty quickly. The main characters -- a sister and brother -- are quite likable, indeed even lovable. You root for them and their family as they try to resettle in a new land. Some moments are comic while others are dramatic; Erdrich writes them all so beautifully that they are quite touching.

Black-and-white drawings are scattered throughout the book. These are not strictly necessary, but children might enjoy how they break up the text occasionally.
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LibraryThing member DrFuriosa
Louise Erdrich writes a moving, funny, and sad entry in her children's series, and invests us more deeply in Omakayas's world.
LibraryThing member jennybeast
Very well done chronicle of Ojibwe life as the tribes were being displaced during the colonization of America. Good story, in the way that Little House and Bo at Ballard Creek and Dancing at the Odinochka are good stories -- daily life historical fiction is always appealing to me.
LibraryThing member BookConcierge
Digital audiobook narrated by Christina Moore

Book three in the Birchbark House series sees Omakayas growing into young womanhood. Her leadership qualities are blossoming and becoming evident to the members of her tribe. She has a bit more autonomy as she explores the area with her younger brother,
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which leads to some serious difficulties.

The entire tribe is affected by the encroachment of white settlers who force them from their ancestral lands and send them in search of a new home. They endure a very harsh season, nearly starving, and losing a couple of valued members of the group. But always, Omakayas and her people rely on their traditions, beliefs and cooperation to survive and prosper.

Christina Moore does a marvelous job of narrating the audiobook. This is a children’s series and the story is well-suited to an oral tradition. However, the text does have some marvelous illustrations. The text also includes a helpful glossary explaining / translating many of the Ojibwe terms used throughout the book.
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LibraryThing member LibraryCin
A continuation of two other books to start this series, also a children’s book, set in the mid-1800s, focusing on a young Anishinaabe/Ojibwe girl, Omakayas (Little Frog). This follows another year in her life. Initially she and her younger brother get caught up in some rapids in their canoe and
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are not sure where they’ve ended up. They do find their way back to their family (who has found some beads belonging to Omakayas and fear the two have died!), along with a pet baby porcupine! Other happenings include coming across a wildfire (as they travel toward more family living elsewhere) and “adopting” two white children. Later on the group is ambushed and robbed, leaving them to struggle to survive.

I didn’t like this one as much as the first two, though that little porcupine was cute! I hate that had to leave the little guy behind at one point while he slept. *sniff *sniff.. I’m not sure why this one didn’t hold my interest as well as the first two in the series, but I did lose focus a few times. (Note: I was not listening to an audio, so can’t blame it on that.) I will continue the series, however.
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LibraryThing member Stahl-Ricco
1852 - “… a year of flight and adventure, pain and joy…” for Omakayas and her family. Beautiful map on the inside cover details their journey! And another beautiful story to read in this series, even with all of the sadness and hardships. And amongst those, Omakayas starts dating, wherein
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the quote below made me laugh, as I am a father:

“As long as we hear that flute, she’s safe! But the minute he stops, go and find my daughter.” Said every father ever!

“…remembering all that happened in that year of danger and love, sacrifice and surprise - that porcupine year.” The year Omakayas became a healer and a woman. The year Pinch gets a new name and a pet! The year famine gets a member of their family. A beautiful and a terrible year. Can't wait for the next book!
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