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The Sign of the Beaver

This adventure by Elizabeth George Speare is published by Houghton Mifflin and is written for kids ages 9 to 12. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.

Plot Summary

After Matt and his father build a wilderness cabin in Maine, Matt's dad leaves him in charge and journeys to collect the rest of the family. When Matt is attacked by a swarm of bees, a Native American chief and his grandson, Attean, nurse Matt back to health. The chief sends Attean to learn English from Matt. The young Indian behaves badly, however, and Matt learns it's because white men killed Attean's parents. Matt and Attean eventually become friends and teach each other ways to survive. When Matt's family is late in returning, Attean invites Matt to join his tribe.

Christian Beliefs

Matt's father has only one book, the Bible. Matt shares the stories with Attean because they're full of adventure, and he's trying to get Attean interested in learning English.

Authority Roles

Though a kind, encouraging role model, Matt's father leaves him alone for months, out of necessity, as he goes to get the rest of Matt's family. When Matt's mother finally arrives, readers learn she pushed the journey along with no regard for her own serious illness so she could get back to her son. Attean's grandfather looks after Matt and teaches his grandson to do the same, despite the animosity between their cultures.

Other Belief Systems

When Matt tells Attean the story of Noah, Attean says he already knows a similar tale about an American Indian who created people as well as other creatures and objects. Attean also goes on a hunt with the older men as a rite of passage to find his manitou, or the spirit assigned to him.

Profanity/Graphic Violence

None

Kissing/Sex/Homosexuality

None

Awards

Newbery Honor Book, ALA Notable Children's Book, ALA Best Book for Young Adults, Horn Book Fanfare, Booklist Editors' Choice, Christopher Award, Scott O'Dell Award for Historical Fiction, The New York Times Best Book of the Year, among others.

Discussion Topics

If your children have read this book or someone has read it to them, consider these discussion topics:

  • Do you think you could survive on your own as long as Matt did?
  • What would you do?
  • It was difficult for Matt to be nice to Attean when the American Indian behaved so rudely toward him.
    Is there someone like Attean in your life?
  • Do you think that, like Matt, you could turn that person into a friend?

Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. A book's inclusion does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.

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