MAKOONS by Louise Erdrich is the fifth book in this cycle, but only the second one about this new generation in the family. I have to admit that I am not a natural reader for this series, that the slow episodic plots do not speak to my needs as a reader, and I believe I may have likened some of the earlier books as the literary equivalent to watching paint dry on the wall.
While I know that she is writing a wonderful series that is specifically a counterpoint to the books of Laura Ingalls Wilder, I hasten to add that I have never read any of Wilder’s books either. Perhaps if I had, my appreciation for Erdrich’s texts would have been greater.
But something strange happened when Erdrich rebooted this series with the previous book, CHICKADEE. I’m not sure whether I mellowed as a reader, becoming more patient, or whether Erdrich was writing books that spoke to me–I’ll assume that it was a little of both–but I became besotted with the book, and wish that we had pushed it harder here (although it did win a second Scott O’Dell for Erdrich). So I looked forward to this next book, MAKOONS, named for the twin brother of Chickadee.
Prefacing this book is a chilling vision that Makoons has, but by the end only some of the things have come to pass, imparting the feeling that they will happen in next book. So this book could be hampered by the series issue, by the incomplete resolution of the book, and by the fact that, to my mind, the contrast between how this family lives on the Great Plains is so different from how they lived by the lakes and rivers of Minnesota is quite powerful, but again depends on that earlier book.
Nevertheless, this book still gets high marks from me for character, setting, style, and theme. I would also ask us to consider this question: Is there a difference between the way an Ojibwe child would receive this book, and how other readers might perceive it? And if so, how should that inform our critical evaluation of whether this is the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children?
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About Jonathan Hunt
Jonathan Hunt is the Coordinator of Library Media Services at the San Diego County Office of Education. He served on the 2006 Newbery committee, and has also judged the Caldecott Medal, the Printz Award, the Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards, and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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