The Sign of the Beaver

by Elizabeth George Speare

Paperback, 2011



Call number

PB Spe

Call number

PB Spe

Local notes

PB Spe


HMH Books for Young Readers (2011), Edition: Reissue, Paperback, 144 pages


Left alone to guard the family's wilderness home in eighteenth-century Maine, a boy is hard-pressed to survive until local Indians teach him their skills.


Original publication date


Physical description

144 p.; 5.25 x 0.5 inches


0547577117 / 9780547577111

Media reviews

The students ... were vocal and articulate in their responses to Speare's depiction of Attean's speech as grunts. I can still hear their voices, 18 years later, as they "talked back" to Speare.
2 more
In this coming-of-age story set in 18th-century Maine, Matthew Hallowell, left alone to guard the family cabin, is befriended by local Indians (tribe not indicated)…. The Natives speak stereotypical "Hollywood Indian," and the story contains offensive terms such as "heathen," "squaw," and "savage." The story perpetuates the stereotype of the "vanishing Indian." While this book is popular and widely used in classrooms, it is offensive in its portrayal of American Indians.
Melody A. Moxley (KLIATT Review, September 1998 (Vol. 32, No. 5)) Schaffert gives Speare's classic story of a 12-year-old boy facing the challenges of young manhood a straightforward yet spirited reading. Matt is left to take care of the pioneer home he and his father have built on the land they purchased in Maine when his father returns to Massachusetts to fetch Matt's mother and sister. Matt, in quest of honey when the molasses runs out, is badly stung, surviving only due to the assistance of Attean, a young Indian, and his grandfather, a chief. In repayment, Matt agrees -- at the grandfather's request -- to teach Attean to read. Matt is reluctant, due largely to Attean's seeming contempt for the activity. But as the boys get to know one another throughout the months ahead, both are surprised by the friendship that is forged. When Matt's father does not arrive and Matt realizes he must face the winter alone, he has to decide whether to go with the Indians as they move their village or stay at the homestead alone. A great choice for family listening, as the listener inevitably considers how s/he would have dealt with Matt's challenges. Schaffert imbues the story with Matt's courage, fear, and uncertainty as well as Attean's grudging friendship for a white boy. He conveys their youth without overstatement, a difficult task for some narrators. Highly recommended. Category: Fiction Audiobooks. KLIATT Codes: JS*--Exceptional book, recommended for junior and senior high school students. 1998 (orig. 1983), Ages 12 to 18.

User reviews

LibraryThing member foggidawn
Matt and his father have been working hard to prepare their homestead in Maine for the arrival of Matt's mother and sister. Now, Matt's father must make the long journey back to Massachusetts to fetch them -- and Matt must stay and take care of the cabin and the crops. When Matt's gun is stolen by a sketchy trapper who happens by, he worries how he will get along without the ability to hunt. He sees a lot of fish in his future! When Matt gets into trouble with a swarm of angry bees, a Native American man Saknis and his grandson Attean come to Matt's rescue. In gratitude, Matt offers them one of his prized possessions: a copy of Robinson Crusoe -- but the Native Americans do not know how to read English. Matt agrees to teach Attean to read. At first, Matt and Attean do not get along very well, but over time they come to understand one another better. When winter comes and Matt's family has still not arrived, Matt must make a difficult decision: will he keep waiting at the cabin, or will he travel with Attean and his tribe? What if Matt's father never comes?

This is a gripping story, but it has many problematic aspects, particularly in its treatment of Native American culture. Some of the author's word choices are especially poor -- Attean and his grandfather tend to speak in "grunts," women are sometimes referred to as "squaws," and when Matt observes a ceremonial dance, he compares it mentally to a clowing routine. On the other hand, by the end of the novel, Matt has come to a greater appreciation of Native Americans, recognizing that they have taught him how to survive is the wild and have extended hospitality and friendship to him, and there is a sense that he regrets the fact that the Native American hunting grounds will soon be full of white settlers. Matt's nuanced character development is probably what earned this book its Newbery Honor, but it isn't enough to offset the problematic attitudes inherent in the book, and I'd have a hard time recommending this book to young readers of today.

I listened to the audiobook version, and was not particularly impressed. The author has a tendency to use too much emphasis, a delivery that comes across as forceful and distracting to me.
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LibraryThing member alcrivello
How cultures can learn from one another, how survival is taught, how friendships are made. Matt and Attean have quite a bit to discover about each other, their cultures, how they can interact, and themselves.
LibraryThing member cameronc
This book is about a boy who is in the forest and he meets this indian.
LibraryThing member cc120323
The story takes place in a wilderness cabin in Maine (around 1760). Twelve years old Matt helps his dad clear land and then they build a cabin. His father then returns to Massachusetts to get Matt’s mother and the younger children. Matt is left behind to take care of the cabin while waiting for their return. Matt becomes concerned mostly about some Indians. However, he finds his difficulties come from the wildlife and from a stranger who steals his most valued gun. He makes a bargain with an Indian boy’s grandfather; Matt will teach his grandson, Attean, to read and write while Attean will provide food for Matt. They create a bond and learn to respect each other. Matt learns to survive in the wilderness while Attean learns to communicate in the white man’s language. The family arrives, several months later than expected, to find their boy has learned a great deal from the Indians.

Personal reaction to the book: Boys, as well as girls, will love this book. The basic theme of “The Sign of the Beaver” is survival and friendship. I loved this book because it shows how people can come together to help each other in a time of need. The characters do not respect each other in the beginning but over time they create a lasting friendship and mutual respect for one another. They grow together and learn from each other even though they are not always realizing it. The two boys’ lives are so different, but they soon realize they also have a lot in common. Coming from different worlds does not always mean you have to be different. The story is historically accurate and believable. Maine at this time is a territory and not yet a state. The book talks about how the Indians were eventually pushed off their land and moved farther north and west. The book is paced at a rate which allows the reader to follow easily. It never has a dull moment and it flows well.

Extension ideas: 1. I would have the students create a diorama using a scene from the book.
2. The students will write a letter from Matt to his family describing what has happened while they have been gone.
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LibraryThing member DLWilson1831
The story was about a boy named Matt. Matt's father left Matt alone to protect their newly built cabin in the woods. Matt's only protection, his gun was stolen by a white renegade and Matt begins to feel he cannot protect his responsibility, the cabin. Until Matt meets a Indian boy. The Indian boy teaches Matt new ways to hunt and survive. The Indian boy also makes Matt realize how the white people are interfering with the Indian's way of life.

I thought this was a accurate book. There were parts that were kind of boring, but overall it was a good book. I liked the way the two boys together helped overcome stereotypes and prejudices by bonding together. The one part of the book (in the beginning) really bothered me that Matt's father left so much responsibility up to the child at such a young age.

As an extension idea you could set down in groups and have the students discuss likes in differences between now and back then. Another idea would be to research on the internet different Indian tribes and tell what parts of the U.S. they lived in. This would teach the children a greater sense of appreciation for other cultures.
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LibraryThing member RamiroLongoria
This book takes place in the 1700’s when early colonization was taking place in North America. A young 13-year-old boy named Matt was left behind by his father in order to keep the land claimed and protected as his father went back to get the rest of the family. Matt soon finds out that it was a more difficult task than he had imagined and faced great life threatening situations. In the meantime he befriends an Indian tribe who saves his life and helps him survive. The story has many action scenes that keeps the reader wanting to read to find out the outcome and what decision the boy will make concerning his new Indian friends or looking for his family.

I really enjoyed this book for several reasons. First, the plot of the friendship that develops between Matt and the young Indian boy named Attean. At first Matt did not befriend him but as the story continues they do become good friends. Also, the author did well in creating several dilemmas that Matt had to face and had to make a decision. The greatest dilemma was at the end when Matt had to decide to stay with his new friends or go back and look for his family. It was an excellent book and I would recommend reading it to the class.

I believe that this would be a good book to read to the classroom for just a few minutes each day. It may be a little longer but I believe it would be worth reading to the class. It has some good historical facts that can be mentioned about the life of the early settlers and what it was like for the Indians whose lives were changed during this time era. I would use this book to introduce some of the facts of our history and use it to encourage reading for pleasure.
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LibraryThing member starlover1
this is a very very good book but not at first
LibraryThing member lexi7n
I read this book with my class at school. And my teacher really did a good job by helping us understand what the author was trying yo say. Books can mean more than a story, they are lessons of life in words, and this book is an amazing example of that.

Most people think a friend is someone you've known for long time even if you don't know who they really are in the inside. But I think that in this book both Matt and Attean learn that you can't have a real friendship without trust or respect. This is true because in the beginning, when Matt and Attean first mat they had no trust, respect, or friendship what so ever. They both didn't like each others cultures and as a result, didn't like each other. I think that they were to prejudice and that everyone should at least get to know who the person is before judging them.

Attean didn't want to take reading lessons because he didn't want to read but also because it was by Matt and he was white but also because he didn't want to admit Matt was more educated then he was. When Attean gave Matt a rabbit for his half of the treaty and Matt said that there was no hole, Attean offered to teach him how to make snare, instead of a gun or arrow. Matt was excited and astonished by Attean's knowledge and he respected that, and Attean respected Matt now. Now, their friendship had begun.

When Matt saved Attean's dog from the white man's metal trap Attean tried not to show how grateful and happy he was, but he didn't trick Matt. They each trusted each other now, and are like best friends, or even more, like Attean said, brothers. This is why, you can't have a real, true friendship without either trust or respect.
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LibraryThing member chsbellboy
One of my favorite children's books. It provides an appreciation for basic survival skills, but also helps question values and assumptions about relationships between different people groups.
LibraryThing member ctmsanvu
The Sighn of the Beaver is about a boy named Matt who is left alone in the woods, his father and him build a log house there where matt would stay in for a few months. Matt's father leaves, to pick up Matt's mother, sister, and new born baby sister, now Matt is alone with only his dad's rifle. This rifle is eventually stolen a few days later by a random hunter, how will Matt hunt for food now? Later Matt meets an Indian who rescues him from a swarm of bees, the Indian is named Attean. Matt and Attean make a deal: Matt would teach Attean how to read while Attean would get food for Matt he has no rifle. Attean also teaches Matt how to hunt with traps, how make a fish hook, and how to make/ use a bow and arrow. Months go by and his family is still not here, and winter is almost here. Since winter is almost here Attean has to leave, Attean offers Matt if he would like to come with him to go hunt, but Matt says no hoping that his parents will come back soon. Will Matt's parents come back soon or will Matt be in the freezing cold all by himself?

I give the book, The Sign of the Beaver ***** because it is interesting and has lots of action/ adventure. I really like how Matt is left alone in the woods and has to try to survive by himself with no gun. I thought it was nice of Attean to hunt food for Matt while Matt teaches Attean how to read. I also thought it was nice of Attean to teach Matt how to hunt by himself without a gun, how to make a fish hook, and how to use/ make a bow and arrow. I recomend this book to everyone, it will keep you excited from all of the action/ adventures. I hope to read another on of Elizabeth Spheare's books one day. You can really understand the theme and plot of this book. Who doesn't like books with action, care, and excitement.
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LibraryThing member EllieGiles
This is the story of two young boys, one white and one Native American, who rely on each other in order to survive in the wilderness.
LibraryThing member juliehrbacek
This book is a beautifully well-written tale of a young boy left to his own resources on the frontier of Maine while his father leaves for an extended period of time. The boy is befriended by a Native American boy and his grandfather who help him through a very difficult time in his life.

The bravery that the young boy shows in this book is amazing. I can hardly imagine what it would be like to be left all alone in the most primitive conditions. As the 12 year old Matt is faced with life threatening situations, his new friends become his family as he waits for his family to return, completely unsure that they ever will.

This book reminds me that the people who settled the frontier from Maine to California and everywhere in between faced challenges and overcame obstacles that made it possible for me to have the life I have today.

A great time to introduce this book would be when the class is studying the 18th century settlement of the United States in history class, probably in the latter elementary to middle school grades. The students could create posters, dioramas, make period costumes or re-create tools used by the settlers of the time. It would make a great read-aloud book for the class to share and complete group projects.
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LibraryThing member Hamburgerclan
The year is 1768. A man and his twelve year old son have traveled to the territory of Maine to start a new farmstead. Now that the land has been selected and the cabin built, the man heads back to fetch his wife and daughter, leaving his son alone to till their field and protect their cabin. Can the boy survive the six weeks alone? Well, we never know, because he's befriended by neighboring Indians who help him survive and lead him to discover not only their culture but a few things about himself as well. "The Sign of the Beaver" is a nice tale, centering on the relationship between Matt, the English boy, and Attean, a native one. It's chock full of information about the lifestyle of the local people (Penobscots, I think, but the book's a bit unclear on that point) and the English settlers. Definitely a book to let your kids check out so you can sneak a peek at it as well.
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LibraryThing member momma2
A review by Blake: A good book. Surprises around a lot of the corners. The ending was really good. Some of it was kinda sad though.
LibraryThing member crichar3
Excellent read aloud especially during the Native American 4th grade unit.
LibraryThing member AMQS
I read part of this to a third grade class, and of course, had to read the rest of it. Third graders in Colorado study Native Americans, and this is a perfect read aloud for them during this unit. 13 year-old Matt travels with his father from Massachusetts to Maine to build a small cabin on their claim. Father leaves Matt there to guard their cabin until he can return with the rest of the family -- six or seven weeks at most. Matt falls victim to an unscrupulous white trapper, to loneliness, and to his own clumsy and inadequate survival skills. There may also be Indians in the area, and Matt often has the feeling he is being watched. He is, and good thing, too, because the chief of the Beaver clan rescues and nurses him back to health after a foolish attempt to rob some bees. In exchange for helping him, the old chief wants Matt to teach his grandson Attean to read, so the tribes will be able to understand the treaties they sign with white men. Attean is a hostile and unwilling student, but is gradually hooked by the stories Matt reads to him from the only book he has: Robinson Crusoe. Experiencing the story through Attean's eyes, Matt comes to wince at the messages and white superiority asserted in the book -- Crusoe is also befriended by a native, but he is portrayed as bumbling and dependent on Crusoe to help him survive. While Attean learns never warms to reading, he becomes an invaluable teacher and friend to Matt. Matt continues to await his family, and as weeks stretch into months, is transformed by Attean into a self-reliant, independent young man with the tools and knowledge to survive alone when the Beaver clan moves on.… (more)
LibraryThing member DarlenesBookNook
I read this book aloud to my children. It has won several literary awards, including: 1984 Newbery Honor, 1984 Scott O'Dell Award, and 1988 Rebecca Caudill Young Reader's Book Award Nominee.

Wow, what an adventure! I love survival stories like this.

The story takes place in 1769 and involves a 12 year-old boy named Matt. Matt's father has bought land in a new township in Maine, and the two of them have been building their new log-cabin home as well as planting crops. Matt's mother, sister, and new baby stayed behind in Massachusetts while the "men" got things set-up for the family's permanent move to Maine.

During the summer of 1769, Matt's father makes the trek back to Massachusetts to bring the rest of the family to the new home in Maine. It is expected that it will take six to seven weeks, round-trip. Matt is left in charge of the home and crops in Maine, with his father's rifle for both protection and hunting.

There is much work to be done tending to the crops and chinking the spaces between the logs of the cabin. Matt works hard, and he keeps himself busy to help pass the time while he is alone. Of course, he experiences some adventures along the way! He makes friends with the local Beaver tribe, who initially are very hesitant to trust a "white" boy.

August, the time for Matt's family to arrive, comes and goes. Autumn passes, and soon it is winter. The chief of the local Beaver tribe tells Matt that they intend to leave the area and travel north to follow the moose. The tribe worries that something has happened to Matt's family and fear that they will not return now that it is already winter. They invite Matt to come with them, and the chief lovingly promises to treat Matt as his own blood. It is a heartbreaking moment, and Matt must decide whether to try to brave the harsh winter completely alone and isolated or go with the Beaver tribe where he will be safe. What would you do?

We loved this story! This is one of those books where my kids actually begged, "Just one more chapter, please?" It was hard for even me to put down, and it took a lot of discipline to keep my own hands away from the book and not read ahead!

This is a fantastic book to read with your kids, and I highly recommend it! This would also be a perfect choice for someone who is a reluctant reader.

MY RATING: 5 stars!! We loved it!!
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LibraryThing member t1bclasslibrary
Matt is in charge of caring for his house and growing corn while his family is gone. He starts out well, but as time goes on and his father doesn't return, he finds life more and more difficult. He develops a friendship with Attean, a local Native American boy, who teaches him what he needs to know to survive far from others and without his family, but he doesn't earn Attean's respect until he chooses to wait for his family instead of going to the hunt with Attean's tribe.… (more)
LibraryThing member ani2rose3
this is a exiting book. A boy gets left alone because his dad has to get his wife and dahter for the new home
LibraryThing member Snukes
Really enjoyed this story. I tried chewing pine sap for gum after reading it, though, and that went very badly.
LibraryThing member SylviaSmile
This classic tale by Elizabeth George Speare outlines a young boy, Matt, left to fend for himself on his family's new homestead. When he has a scary accident, nearby Indians intervene to help him and exchange a trade for his knowledge of reading. In the end, however, he is more enriched by the agreement, as he learns how to live in harmony with the land through the example of his new pupil, another boy around his age. The themes of coming-of-age as well as race relations are explored in a sensitive, profound way. I will admit I shed a tear at the end, as well! Great for kids ages 8-13.… (more)
LibraryThing member athenaharmony
Even as a young adult who had never read this work before, I definitely enjoyed The Sign of the Beaver. It was a welcome change from the children's wilderness literature to which I am accustomed, since it takes a different route from the usual "dropped into the wilderness with no supplies" story line. Matt and his father have already settled a piece of land by the time the story begins, and so it was interesting to see how the author depicted the ways in which a young settler, rather than a hopelessly lost and previously urban teenager, would work to survive when left alone in the wilderness. Speare creates a landscape and characters that are detailed enough to make the story easy to picture, but not so detailed that they bog the reader down and leave him or her mired in names, places, and relationships, which makes this a quick, pleasant read, perfect for filling up an hour or two of free time.

One aspect of the story that I really appreciated was its potential for helping children understand the importance of questioning the messages hidden in things that they see, hear, or read. Upon meeting Native Americans and building relationships with them, Matt begins to become aware of the "white superiority" messages hidden in his favourite book, Robinson Crusoe, and reflects on the ways in which those messages may or may not actually apply in real life. This could make the book a useful tool for parents and teachers who want to encourage children to evaluate the truth of the things that they read, especially since, in the story, the reading of Robinson Crusoe and Matt's questioning of the validity of the text's message about Native peoples both occur within a few pages, solidifying the connection between them.

With that said, I think it worth it to add a few words of caution to anyone who, like me, has never picked up this book before and wants to read it for the first time as an older reader. First, it is such a quick read that one can reach the end without feeling like anything has really been read, and the story can seem a bit bland because, due to the length of the story, the characters and the relationships between them grow and change very rapidly, to the point where it sometimes seems unrealistic (for example, a deep dislike can become open friendliness after a single small deed is done). Second, especially towards the end of the story, Speare devotes a lot of space to descriptions of various things that Matt does around the house, which can become a bit tedious if one is not fascinated by that kind of thing. Finally, Speare's attempts to emphasize Matt's growing understanding of the Native Americans and their way of life, as well as his growing awareness of the situation that the arrival of white men creates for the Native Americans, can sometimes be so glaringly obvious that they almost seem silly to an older reader who understands from the start that that will be the "moral of the story."

However, all of my mild criticisms come from the fact that the book was intended for children, and so I highly recommend it to readers of that age group, who will likely enjoy the characters' rapid changes and be at least mildly impressed by the positive message presented in the text, as well as older readers who do not mind reading a pretty predictable (but still quite pleasant) short story.
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LibraryThing member mirrani
It was a must read when I was growing up, part of our school curriculum, and it is still as touching to me today as it was amazing back then. When I was younger this was a story about living in another time, practically in another world from my own, where children were left on their own to hunt and fend for themselves and no one thought twice of it. A world of living with Native Americans before there were too many whites to influence the culture and interfere with the culture of the tribes. As an adult, it is a story about the comparisons between the two cultures, reflecting how each is similar and how each struggle is fought in different ways by boys who are at the age where they're ready to make their own way in the world, but still young enough to be learning a little more about what life means in the process.

A short story and quick read, this book is filled with enough adventure to keep any reader happy and has enough emotion to turn any heart soft for just a little while. A classic story of a time lost to us that shouldn't be forgotten.
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LibraryThing member butterkidsmom
A 12 year old boy fends for himself with the help of an Indian boy.
LibraryThing member tealightful
When I read this book at a much younger age, I adored it. Let's be real, I probably had an unrealistic crush on the fictional Attean. Tall, dark, handsome, strong, intelligent, good with hands... ;)

Alright, alright so he is 14 in this book, but I was merely a young lass enamored with the idea of a gorgeous Native American boy to sweep me off my feet.

Now about the book itself... It is an easy read for 2nd-5th graders, I would say. It doesn't teach much but the plot is catching enough that young readers would devour it. A young boy's father leaves him alone in a cabin surrounded by nothing but forest while he returns to Quincy, Maine to retrieve his wife and child. In his absence, Matt [boy] meets Attean [Indian] and against all odds, they become friends. As things progress, he is invited to join the tribe in their move West. Does he abandon the cabin he's guarded for almost a year or does he wait for his family's return? *cue dramatic music* You'll just have to read it to find out!

What I don't like is the inconsistent writing. The author used very ridiculous speech for the Indians. "Me Attean. We no like white man. White man words bad". She gives the boy's father a type of hybrid old-english-southern-alabama accent, while Matt's is plain ol' english. At times, she uses modern slang such as : "the village was awesome" and "now it looks lame".

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