Synopses & Reviews
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 Speares 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. Now with an introduction by Joseph Bruchac.
* "Matt joins other memorable characters, Kit, Julie, and Karana, finding his inner strength and values in a changing world in this well-written and fast-reading story." School Library Journal, starred review
Until the day his father returns to their cabin in the Maine wilderness, twelve-year-old Matt must try to survive on his own. Although Matt is brave, he's not prepared for an attack by swarming bees, and he's astonished when he's rescued by an Indian cheif and his grandson, Attean.
As the boys come to know each other Attean learns to speak English while Matt becomes a skilled hunter. Though many months have passed, there's no sign of Matt's family. Then Attean asks Matt to join the Beaver tribe and move north. Should Matt abandon his hopes of ever seeing his family again and move on to a new life?
Twelve-year-old Matt is left on his own in the Maine wilderness while his father leaves to bring the rest of the family to their new settlement. When he befriends Attean, an Indian chiefs grandson, he is invited to join the Beaver tribe and move north. Should Matt abandon his hopes of ever seeing his family again and go on to a new life?
Although he faces his responsibility bravely, thirteen-year-old Matt is more than a little apprehensive when his father leaves him alone to guard their newly built cabin in the wilderness. When a renegade white stranger steals his gun, Matt knows he has no way to shoot game and no way to protect himself. It is only after meeting the proud, resourceful Indian boy Attean that Matt begins to discover new ways to survive in the forest. And in getting to know his friend, Matt also begins to understand the heritage and way of life of the Beaver clan and their growing problem in adapting to the white man and the changing frontier.
Left alone to guard the family's wilderness home in eighteenth-century Maine, a boy is hard-pressed to survive until the Beaver clan teaches him their skills in this Newbery Honor book.
About the Author
"I was born in Melrose, Massachusetts, on November 21, 1908. I have lived all my life in New England, and though I love to travel I can't imagine ever calling any other place on earth home. Since I can't remember a time when I didn't intend to write, it is hard to explain why I took so long getting around to it in earnest. But the years seemed to go by very quickly. In 1936 I married Alden Speare and came to Connecticut. Not till both children were in junior high did I find time at last to sit down quietly with a pencil and paper. I turned naturally to the things which had filled my days and thoughts and began to write magazine articles about family living. Then one day I stumbled on a true story from New England history with a character who seemed to me an ideal heroine. Though I had my first historical novel almost by accident it soon proved to be an absorbing hobby." Elizabeth George Speare (1908-1994) won the 1959 Newbery Medal for THE WITCH OF BLACKBIRD POND, and the 1962 Newbery Medal for THE BRONZE BOW. She also received a Newbery Honor Award in 1983, and in 1989 she was presented with the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award for her substantial and enduring contribution to childrens literature.
ABOUT THIS BOOK
While waiting months for his father to return to their cabin in the Maine wilderness, twelve-year-old Matt is befriended by Indians and asked to join their tribe when they move north. Should he abandon his hopes of ever seeing his family again?In the summer of 1768, Matt Hallowell and his father establish a homestead in Maine territory. When his father returns to Quincy, Massachusetts to fetch Matt's mother and sister, Matt is left alone to guard the house. One day he is almost killed by a swarm of bees, but is rescued by Chief Saknis, a Penobscot Indian, and his grandson, Attean. To repay Saknis for saving his life, Matt agrees to teach Attean to read English. At the same time, Matt is learning to become a skilled hunter from Attean. Saknis offers to adopt Matt and take him north with the tribe as it moves to new hunting grounds. Matt knows that he would be proud to be Attean's brother, but he also knows he must wait for his own family.
The Sign of the Beaver has been made into a television movie, called "Keeping the Promise," and stars Keith Carradine, Annette O'Toole, and Brendan Fletcher as Matt. It is an Atlantis Films Limited Production.
In the Classroom
Today, there is much controversy regarding ownership of land that was once owned by Native Americans. Novels like The Sign of the Beaver may help students better understand this issue. Matt, a white boy, and Attean, a Native American, become friends in spite of their differences. Though the Hallowells are homesteaders, Matt does become sympathetic to the deep effects the settlers have on the Penobscot tribe. There are several themes to explore: survival, friendship, fear and courage, pride, gender roles, and initiation. This novel provides a natural link between the language arts and social studies curriculum; teachers may also connect Matt and Attean's story to science, math, art, and drama. The Sign of the Beaver is an excellent story with strong literary merit, making it a good book for classroom read-aloud or a novel study.
Suggested Classroom Activities
Display a map of Maine, and point out the Penobscot River. Explain to the students that Penobscot means "The Rocky Place." How is the name of the tribe pertinent to the state of Maine? Tell the class that the Penobscot Tribe in The Sign of the Beaver leaves their central village during the winter. Ask the students to discuss why the tribe must move with the seasons.
Survival -- Matt survives in the Maine wilderness for about six months. Divide the class into small groups and ask them to discuss the skills Matt uses to survive. What did Matt's father do that helps Matt survive? What beneficial skills does Matt Learn from Attean ? What does Saknis provide? What does Matt learn from the women of the tribe? What does he learn on his own? Ask the class to discuss whether Matt could have survived on his own without the help of Attean and his grandfather.
Friendship -- Matt and Attean do not form an immediate friendship. At what point do the two boys become friends? Ask students to select passages from the book that signify the developing friendship of Matt and Attean. Which boy needs the friendship the most? Have students write a journal entry that Matt might have written on the day that Attean leaves with his tribe to go to the winter hunting ground.
Fear and Courage -- There are times in the novel when Matt is quite fearful. For example, a stranger comes into Matt's cabin and takes his father's gun. Matt is left without protection. Ask students to identify other times that Matt appears fearful. Matt might also be called courageous. How are fear and courage closely related? Ask students to discuss whether they think a person has to experience fear before they can show courage.
Pride -- Both Matt and Attean accomplish tasks that make their families proud of them. Have students identify and dramatize the scenes from the book that illustrate how pride is expressed by each of their families.
Gender Roles -- Invite the class to compare and contrast Attean and Matt's views regarding man's work and woman's work. How do their beliefs reflect a cultural difference? Perhaps students would enjoy interviewing several people from other cultures. How do their cultures regard the roles of males and females? Prepare the interview, either on tape or in writing, to share with the class.
Initiation -- Fourteen-year-old Attean and thirteen-year-old Matt are on the verge of becoming adults--initiation into manhood. Attean is considered a man, and is entitled to hunt with the adult men when he finds his "manitou." Matt's culture does not have such a rite of passage to determine his entrance into manhood. At the end of the novel, he is considered a man because he has accepted his responsibility as a part of the family. Send students to the library to research other cultures and their views regarding a child's initiation into adulthood.
Language Arts -- Storytelling is important in both Matt and Attean's culture. Matt tells his version of the bear story in the book. Attean is expected to tell his version of the story at the tribe's feasting ceremony. Ask students to think about Attean's version of the story and make preparation to tell it to the class.
Matt accepts the task of teaching Attean to read. The only book that Matt has to offer Attean is Robinson Crusoe, a novel that is entirely too difficult for a beginning reader. Ask the class to discuss how they would go about teaching Attean. Remember that Attean cannot read English at all. Consider, also, that people read best when they are interested in the subject. Make a book that Matt could use in teaching Attean.
Social Studies -- Critics have complemented Elizabeth George Spear on the authenticity of her historical novels, particularly The Sign of the Beaver. Speare attributes the accurate historical facts to her thorough research. Have students record the aspects of the novel that Ms. Speare would have had to research.
The Penobscot Indians originally inhabited the part of the United States that is now the state of Maine. Send students to the library to identify other Native American tribes that originally lived in the New England area. How are the Peobscot Indians related to the Algonquins?
Science -- Matt's father tells him that there were no bees in America until the colonists brought them from England (p.22). Ask students to find information that verifies this fact. Students might also want to research the appropriate first aid for a bee sting.
The Native Americans had to depend on herbs and plants for their medicines. Encourage students to research some of herbs that they used to heal people. What is a person who practices medicine with herbs called today?
Math --How does Matt keep track of time? Ask students to relate his method of keeping time with early forms of math.
Art -- Both Matt and Attean give detailed instructions for making various domestic objects. Ask students to carefully read the directions that the boys give for making instruments for survival, living shelters, or other items. Then, have students draw these items or construct replicas.
Drama -- Ceremony and drama has always been important in the Native American culture. Dramatize one ceremony that the Penobscot Indians might have performed.
Teaching Ideas prepared by Elizabeth A. Poe, Associate Professor of English, Radford University, Radford, VA.
The vocabulary in The Sign of the Beaver is really very simple. Students may wish to focus on Attean's developing vocabulary. As he learns more English, he begins to make fun of some of the expressions that Matt uses. What are some of the phrases that he thinks are humorous? Ask students to share some humorous expressions that they or their family use.
A Newbery Honor Book
An ALA Notable Children's Book
An ALA Best Book for Young Adults
Horn Book Fanfare
A Booklist Editors' Choice
Scott O'Dell Award for Historical Fiction
The New York Times Best Book of the Year
"A sturdy, never faltering story of wilderness survival." -- Kirkus Reviews
"The story has flow and pace, good style, and that careful but unobtrusive research that marks the best historical fiction." -- The Bulletin
"Distinguished in style and compelling in narrative force. . . As usual in Mrs. Speare's novels, each word rings true." -- The New York Times Book Review
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