Movable Type 3.2
January 24, 2010
Review: The Sign of the Beaver2010 Finishes: Books
The Sign of the Beaver by Elizabeth George Speare
I've loved The Witch of Blackbird Pond since I was about twelve, but I had somehow never read The Sign of the Beaver. A teacher friend outed me for not having read it in front of her whole class of fifth graders, so then I clearly had no choice. And it was good! It's no Witch, but very few things could be. This is aimed at a slightly younger audience, and it's about a boy and rather more action-oriented.
13-year-old Matt and his father have traveled to the Maine wilderness to build a homestead; then the father goes back to Boston to get the mother and younger siblings, leaving Matt alone. Completely alone. In a cabin in the wilderness. There aren't even any neighbors. Really, it's TERRIFYING, and Speare makes it all very subtle and understated, but - my God, I cannot even imagine. Of course, then a bear comes and eats a bunch of the food, and then Matt gets stung extremely badly when trying to get honey out of a hive. A local Native American chief has been watching him, it turns out, and takes him home to give him some medical care.
Matt is afraid of the Native Americans at first, of course, but he comes to like and respect them over time, and he strikes a bargain with the chief. (The reader is left to suspect that the chief, being a nice guy, was probably going to take care of this poor little boy no matter what, but Matt feels like he's being an adult about the whole thing.) In exchange for food and other help that the chief and his people provide, the chief asks Matt to teach his grandson (around Matt's age) to read. The boy doesn't want to learn, but the grandfather recognizes that if their people are going to survive, they must learn to play by the white settlers' rules. Matt and the boy become grudging friends, and eventually the rest of the boy's family come to trust Matt too.
By this point, Matt's father has been gone way longer than planned, and it's time for the Native Americans to move to different hunting ground. They offer to adopt Matt, and he has to decide whether to go with them or wait for his family, who might never appear. I was honestly unsure of what he would decide while I was reading, which is quite something for a kids' book - usually the plots of even high-quality kids' books are pretty predictable to adults. I won't ruin the ending for you, but it brings up some really interesting issues of the concept of "civilization" in regards to the Native Americans and the settlers, and of the way that prejudices can change, in several directions, over just a generation or two.Posted by Kat at January 24, 2010 09:22 AM