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Book Review: The Sign of the Beaver

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Nicole Tracy | Literary Columnist

The synopsis for The Sign of The Beaver reads as follows: “Although he faces responsibility bravely, thirteen-year-old Matt is more than a little apprehensive when his father leaves him alone to guard their new cabin in the wilderness. When a renegade white stranger steals his gun, Matt realizes he has no way to shoot game or to protect himself. When Matt meets Attean, a boy in the Beaver clan, he begins to better understand their way of life and their growing problem in adapting to the white man and the changing frontier.
Elizabeth George Speare’s Newbery Honor-winning survival story is filled with wonderful detail about living in the wilderness and the relationships that formed between settlers and natives in the 1700s.”
Imagine being 13 years old, alone in a cabin, out in the middle of nowhere, and left to be responsible for said cabin until your family arrived? It’s the very situation that the main character, Matt, finds himself in at the beginning of The Sign of the Beaver by Elizabeth George Speare.
Through various circumstances, Matt finds himself both needing help from and indebted to the Indian tribe who lives nearby. At first he doesn’t trust the Indians, and the feeling is quite mutual – they feel the same way about him. He promises to teach a boy his age, Attean, how to read, but he realizes that it’s Attean who must teach him how to live in the wilderness
When his father is delayed in returning with the rest of his family for reasons unknown, Matt’s very survival becomes dependent on the Beaver clan.
The Sign of the Beaver will broaden your child’s perspective about the world around them. It seems that younger children tend to think their family or culture is only way. It’s an eye opener for kids to have the chance to learn to imagine life through the eyes of another person. Author Speare doesn’t play favorites with one culture over the other. By the end of the story, both Matt and Attean gain a mutual respect for each other’s different customs.
Readers picturing Matt’s struggle to survive while reading could possibly even lead to grateful kids. Today’s kids don’t have to worry about where their next meal will come from or if they’ll be able to last the winter. They don’t have to wonder for months how their family is doing, they can just pick up the phone and call.
On the other hand, kids may decide to pick up on the more fun parts of this story, and doing things like crafting snares. This deserves to be mentioned only because it happened to yours truly, the reviewer. The resident 9 year old is reading this story in school (he left the book lying on the couch, leading the reviewer to pick it up and read it), and decided he had to try his hand at snares. He made one in the house, and somehow managed to catch the reviewer on the way to the coffee pot. For the record, there was impressed pride that he got the idea from reading the story, but sincere disdain from having gotten caught in a snare made of yarn.
Kids will most likely find inspiration to use their quite resourceful imaginations reading this one. Best of all, it’s a Newbery Honor winning book, which is given for “distinguished contributions to American Literature for children”.
Overall, The Sign of the Beaver is a great story that will fire up a child’s imagination, or possibly even an adult. If one missed this one growing up, as far as children’s stories go, one could do much worse. It’s an enjoyable, fairly quick read.
The Sign of the Beaver is available at the Howard County Public Library. Copies are limited, so, if it is unavailable, ask at the front desk to be put on a waiting list for it.