Speare, Elizabeth George. The Sign of the Beaver. New York: Sandpiper, 1983.
Genre: Young Adult pioneer/survival fiction
Audience: 12 and up
Summary: The Sign of the Beaver is about a young boy who becomes friends with a Native American and they grow into manhood with each other. The boy is named Matt and is only 12 years old when he helps his dad build a cabin in a newly settled area amidst Native Americans. The father leaves to help the rest of the family make it back to the cabin, leaving Matt alone. He must survive on his own, and he makes friends with a Native American boy named Attean who is the same age as him. They share knowledge with each other and share a friendship that shows how all humans can be friends.
Themes: A major theme in this book is survival. It sort of had a survival type of attitude like Hatchet but it also incorporated White American/ Native American friendships in the film “Dances With Wolves”. I would say that both friendship and survival are the two major themes in this book. Matt must survive on his own using the skills taught to him by his father. He shows courage and adapts to his environment in ways that young adults in more rural settings may be able to relate to. The friendships can also be used as a way to see the benefits of diversity and how we can learn from other cultures in order to make our lives better.
Connections: This book goes along with my presentation on teaching African American literature in that it teaches about the benefits of diversity. Students will be able to learn many new survival skills from seeing what the two boys do as they grow up. The native Americans accept Matt and are tolerant of his presence. This should be taught to students so that they can be more tolerant of others and realize that there is a lot of things to be learned from other cultures.
Reactions: I really liked this book. I enjoy stories about survival because they teach me skills in case I ever find myself in a situation where I would need to live off of the land. I also like to see the courage that Matt has when he has to face the wilderness alone. Seeing his courage gives me the hope that I will be as courageous in situations that call for it in other parts of my life.
Reception: A review I read by Emily Birecki talks about the themes in this book. She says that she first thought that this was going to be another boring old manly survival story. She was surprised to see that the themes included friendship and learning from other cultures and she learned a lot from the book.
Another review by Anthony talks about how we was surprised he liked the story. He usually hates historical fiction but this was far less boring than the usual historical fiction he has read.