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Children of the Longhouse

post written by Esther Filbrun

Title: Children of the Longhouse
Author: Joseph Bruchac
Major Themes: Native Americans
Synopsis: After getting in trouble with an older boy in his village, Ohkwa’ri must figure out what a good response should be and how to encourage the boy to work for peace instead of division.

I don’t remember if I’ve read two or three of Joseph Bruchac’s books now, but I’m very impressed by the quality and commitment he has to keep things true to the history in his stories. Children of the Longhouse is the most recent book I’ve been able to read by him, and it’s an unusual story in the fact that the focus is on a now almost-forgotten American Indian tribe from before the days of the white men. Not only would researching for this book have been difficult, but I also imagine it must have been hard to write for fear that some elements might not stay in line with what we know of Native American customs these days. However, he did an excellent job, and I never felt like I was jerked out of the story because of some element of the present slipping in.

Ohkwa’ri has a problem. One of the older influential boys in his village is hungry for power and recognition, and he is determined that nothing will stop him from his pursuit. With his cronies in tow, Grabber could make a lot of damage to their Mohawk village’s name if Ohkwa’ri isn’t able to stop them. All Ohkwa’ri wants is peace, and to become a man in his own right. His twin sister, Otsi:stia, also longs for peace—but she also worries that Ohkwa’ri will be too impulsive and cause even more trouble for himself than he’s already gotten into. Will their village leaders listen to their concerns? Can they stay out of trouble themselves while still learning the lessons they need to? And when a lacrosse game is planned, will Ohkwa’ri be able to play hard enough and well enough that he will bring honor to his village—while still helping Grabber see that he needs to work for the betterment of all, not just himself?

Children of the Longhouse is something of a unique book. I’ve never read one like this that feels so immersed in the Native American culture of the time that, while still staying a clean read, gives you an intimate look at a little of the values and ways of those long-ago tribes. Some of their decisions for how to handle problems between the tribes had me scratching my head. For example, one mention in here is of a clan principle to never tell someone else what to do or not do. They relied on people gaining experience from foolish decisions—which in some cases is a wise move! I don’t know how well that principle worked in some areas, but I’m sure it was good for others. In all, this was a fascinating story, well written, and left me with a better sense of at least a little portion of what life may have been like for the Native Americans years ago.

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