Their homes are made of birch bark, they hunt and gather for food. Some of the men trade in furs. The story begins with a smallpox epidemic in 1847 near Lake Superior where only one crawling baby survives on an island. The baby is adopted by a family and knows nothing of her origins until the end of the book. She is named Omakayas (Little Frog), because her first step was a hop. Life goes through its annual cycle. One day a sick stranger enters the village and a kind young woman takes him in. They both die of the “itching disease.” As more of her family get sick, seven-year-old Omakayas takes on more and more of the work and then takes care them all. Okmakayas wonders why she herself didn’t get sick, too. Old woman Tallow decides it is time to tell her why.
Having read Braiding Sweetgrass, my attention was caught by this delightfully different and poignant way of introducing us to the old indigenous ways. All community members, including children, have their work to do. They learn to thank the plants and animals that share life with them. Both children and adults have time to play. A graceful poetic read with tragic parts, too, like life itself.
- Reviewed by Beth Bartholomew Feb. 10, 2022