Tuesday, January 22, 2013
2013 Contenders: Chickadee, by Louise Erdrich
So, coming to the book as a Erdrich virgin, I'm left with two conclusions:
1. You don't need to have read the rest of the series to enjoy it. Total standalone.
2. If you haven't, you'll want to.
Quick plot summary: Omakayas, who readers met as a child in The Birchbark House, is now the mother of twin boys, Chickadee and Makoon. When Chickadee is kidnapped, the family must leave the woods of northern Minnesota and venture onto the Great Plains to retrieve him. In the process, their way of life changes forever.
For some reason Chickadee wasn't getting a lot of Newbery buzz early in the season, but it has certainly been lauded. It just won the Scott O'Dell award, and it's been starred in, I believe, six journals (though it only made Horn Book's "best of the year" list). Come to think of it, I have no idea why the initial buzz passed it by.
The hype (is it still hype if it's all very dignified and literary?) is well deserved: Erdrich writes masterfully for children. Her prose has a cozy, timeless quality that's immediately appealing. It's very clear and straightforward, while still packing in lots of evocative descriptions of the natural world. The novel is also deftly structured, interweaving the family's story with the larger narrative of the Anishinabe/Ojibwe. It has both emotional weight and moments of levity (the bumbling kidnappers are some of my favorite comic villains of the year).
Comparing it to some of the other Newbery hopefuls, I think it matches them in several categories. Setting and style are clearly distinguished, as is theme. Some of the characters are more developed than others - I think Splendors and Glooms may surpass it there. Splendors may be more distinguished in plot as well, especially as I found myself slightly confused about the timeline of events in Chickadee at times.
Will the committee agree? Are we totally off base? Is it going to be another Moon Over Manifest year? We'll know in less than a week! In the meantime, I'm going to go track down a copy of The Birchbark House for my daughter and make it our next bedtime read-aloud.