The Sign of the Beaver

The Sign of the Beaver

4.1 337
by Elizabeth George Speare

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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

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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 Speare’s 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.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

* "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
Dee Benson
Left alone in the Maine wilderness, while his father returns south to get the rest of the family, 12-year old Matt is charged with protecting his family's new property and log cabin. While awaiting his family's return, Matt faces many challenges. Thanks to a Native American chief and his grandson, Matt learns survival skills. More importantly, he discovers friendship and develops an appreciation for another culture.
Mailbox Bookbag Magazine
Children's Literature - Marilyn Courtot
Matt learns from the Indians how to survive on his family's Maine homestead in the 1700s. He must decide whether to winter with them or go it alone. This was a Newbery Honor Book and also the recipient of the Scott O'Dell Award. 1993 (orig.
School Library Journal
Gr 5-8-Elizabeth George Speare's acclaimed, captivating historical novel (BDD) set in the 1700s receives a fresh treatment here, thanks to narrator Greg Schaffert's fine, crystal clear narration that brings the story to life. Speare's evocative tale tells of the mutually beneficial friendship that develops between Matt, a 13-year-old white boy living alone in the wilderness, and Attean, a proud Native American on the verge of manhood. Matt is guarding his family's newly built cabin while his father travels to retrieve Matt's mother and sister. Attean saves Matt's life after a terrifying bee attack (beautifully brought to life by both Speare and Schaffert). The two become reluctant pals: Matt teaches Attean how to read, and Attean shows Matt how to hunt, set traps and gather. Soon Matt must make a choice: join Attean's tribe or wait for his family to return. Speare's Newbery Honor winner is a good adventure story that will hook those interested in survival stories. It will also serve multicultural collections.-Brian E. Wilson, Oak Lawn Public Library, IL

Product Details

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.10(w) x 7.40(h) x 0.50(d)
Age Range:
10 - 14 Years

Read an Excerpt

Matt stood at the edge of the clearing for some time after his father had gone out of sight among the trees. There was just a chance that his father might turn back, that perhaps he had forgotten something or had some last word of advice. This was one time Matt reckoned he wouldn’t mind the advice, no matter how many times he had heard it before. But finally he had to admit that this was not going to happen. His father had really gone. He was alone, with miles of wilderness stretching on every side.

He turned and looked back at the log house. It was a fair house, he thought; his mother would have no cause to be ashamed of it. He had helped to build every inch of it. He had helped to cut down the spruce trees and haul the logs and square and notch them. He had stood at one end of every log and raised it, one on top of the other, fitting the notched ends together as snugly as though they had grown that way. He had climbed the roof to fasten down the cedar splints with long poles, and dragged up pine boughs to cover them. Behind the cabin were the mounds of corn he had helped to plant, the green blades already shooting up, and the pumpkin vines just showing between the stumps of trees.

If only it were not so quiet. He had been alone before. His father had often gone into the forest to hunt, for hours on end. Even when he was there, he was not much of a talker. Sometimes they had worked side by side through a whole morning without his speaking a single word. But this silence was different. It coiled around Matt and reached into his stomach to settle there in a hard knot.

He knew it was high time his father was starting back. This was part of the plan that thefamily had worked out together in the long winter of 1768, sitting by lamplight around the pine table back in Massachusetts. His father had spread out the surveyor’s map and traced the boundaries of the land he had purchased in Maine territory. They would be the first settlers in a new township. In the spring, when the ice melted, Matt and his father would travel north. They would take passage on a ship to the settlement at the mouth of the Penobscot River. There they would find some man with a boat to take them up the river and then on up a smaller river that branched off from it, many days’ distance from the settlement. Finally they would strike out on foot into the forest and claim their own plot of land. They would clear a patch of ground, build a cabin, and plant some corn. In the summer his father would go back to Massachusetts to fetch his mother and sister and the new baby, who would be born while they were gone. Matt would stay behind and guard the cabin and the corn patch.

It hadn’t been quite so easy as it had sounded back in their house in Quincy. Matt had had to get used to going to sleep at night with every muscle in his body aching. But the log house was finished. It had only one room. Before winter they would add a loft for him and his sister to sleep in. Inside there were shelves along one wall and a sturdy puncheon table with two stools. One of these days, his father promised, he would cut out a window and fasten oiled paper to let in the light. Someday the paper would be replaced with real glass. Against the wall was a chimney of smaller logs, daubed and lined with clay from the creek. This too was a temporary structure. Over and over his father had warned Matt that it wasn’t as safe as a stone chimney and that he had to watch out for flying sparks. He needn’t fear. After all the work of building this house, Matt wasn’t going to let it burn down about his ears.

“Six weeks,” his father had said that morning. “Maybe seven. Hard to reckon exactly. With your ma and sister we’ll have slow going, specially with the new little one.

“You may lose track of the weeks,” he had added. “Easy thing to do when you’re alone. Might be well to make notches on a stick, seven notches to a stick. When you get to the seventh stick you can start looking for us.”

A silly thing to do, Matt thought, as though he couldn’t count the weeks for himself. But he wouldn’t argue about it, not on the last morning.

Then his father reached up to a chink in the log wall and took down the battered tin box that held his watch and his compass and a few silver coins. He took out the big silver watch.

“Every time you cut a notch,” he said, “remember to wind this up at the same time.”

Matt took the watch in his hand as gently as if it were a bird’s egg. “You aim to leave it, Pa?” he asked.

“It belonged to your grandpa. Would’ve belonged to you anyhow sooner or later. Might as well be now.”

“You mean — it’s mine?”

“Aye, it’s yourn. Be kind of company, hearing it tick.”

The lump in Matt’s throat felt as big as the watch. This was the finest thing his father had ever possessed.

“I’ll take care of it,” he managed finally.

“Aye. I knowed you would. Mind you don’t wind it up too tight.”

Then, just before he left, his father had given him a second gift. Thinking of it, Matt walked back into the cabin and looked up at his father’s rifle, hanging on two pegs over the door.

“I’ll take your old blunderbuss with me,” his father had said. “This one aims truer. But mind you, don’t go banging away at everything that moves. Wait till you’re dead sure. There’s plenty of powder if you don’t waste it.”

It was the first sign he had given that he felt uneasy about leaving Matt here alone. Matt wished now that he could have said something to reassure his father, instead of standing there tongue-tied. But if he had the chance again, he knew he wouldn’t do any better. They just weren’t a family to put things into words.

He reached up and took down the rifle. It was lighter than his old matchlock, the one his father had carried away with him in exchange. This was a fine piece, the walnut stock as smooth and shining as his mother’s silk dress. It was a mite long, but it had a good balance. With this gun he wouldn’t need to waste powder. So it wouldn’t hurt to take one shot right now, just to try the feel of it.

He knew his father always kept that rifle as clean as a new-polished spoon. But because he enjoyed handling it, Matt poked about in the touchhole with the metal pick. From the powder horn he shook a little of the black powder into the pan. Then he took one lead bullet out of the pouch, wrapped it in a patch of cloth, and rammed it into the barrel. As he worked, he whistled loudly into the stillness. It made the knot in his stomach loosen a little.

As he stepped into the woods, a bluejay screeched a warning. So it was some time before he spotted anything to shoot at. Presently he saw a red squirrel hunched on a branch, with its tail curled up behind its ears. He lifted the rifle and sighted along the barrel, minding his father’s advice and waiting till he was dead sure.

The clean feel of the shot delighted him. It didn’t set him back on his heels like his old matchlock. Still, he hadn’t quite got the knack of it. He caught the flick of a tail as the squirrel scampered to an upper branch.

I could do better with my own gun, he thought. This rifle of his father’s was going to take some getting used to.

Ruefully he trudged back to the cabin. For his noon meal he sat munching a bit of the johnnycake his father had baked that morning. Already he was beginning to realize that time was going to move slowly. A whole afternoon to go before he could cut that first notch.

Seven sticks. That would be August. He would have a birthday before August. He supposed his father had forgotten that, with so many things on his mind. By the time his family got here, he would be thirteen years old.

From the Audio Cassette (Unabridged) edition.

Copyright 1984 by Elizabeth George Speare

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What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
"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

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The Sign of the Beaver 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 337 reviews.
boomer87 More than 1 year ago
I read this book in the fifth grade. I've since moved on to middle school, high school, college, and now I'm working on my PhD. This book stuck with me as one of the highlights of the fifth grade. I absolutely loved it at the time, and I'm buying a copy now so I can read it over and over again. Matt and Attean's relationship was interesting, and I'm sure that and the cultural diversity aspect was why they made us read it, but most of all I loved the survival aspect of it. I thought it was awesome to see how the Native Americans lived and survived day to day and some of the clever things they did to get by. Even though it is fiction, it's realistic historical fiction, but not the boring kind. I really liked and identified with Matt too (even though I'm female) and he was remembered years later as someone I admired. This book was really fun to read, and I would recommend it to anyone, young or old.
NahvilleReader More than 1 year ago
I have used this book for many years in my 4th grade reading class. It is seldom a book they will pick up on their own, but after the first chapter they are hooked and they love it. We have amazing dicusssions about friendship and trust. This book is a great story of a developing friendship between a Native American boy and a settler boy. The settler boy, Matt is left alone in the wilderness and only survives with the help of Attean, a Navie American boy. Several parents also read this book along with us, and they always surprised by how much they like it as well. Due to a early publishing date, words like "squaw" are used that I don't really encourage, but that is about the only thing I don't like about this story. A students should be a proficient reader to read it independently. Elizabeth George Speare deserves the awards she has won for this book and others. For older readers, The Witch of Blackbird Pond is also terrific.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I just finished the book and it was amazing! The day my class finished the book, the teacher gave us a "essay" about which was our favorite book, Esperanza Rising or Sign of the Beaver, and of course, Sign of the Beaver!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The best book ever !!!!!!!!i loved it and my sisters class read it so good but I did not like the movie
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is one of the best books I have read
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I am reading this bo for school and it is really good. At first i thought it would be boring but it is amazing. The friendship beween matt and attean is inncredible
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I am a fifth grade student reading sign of the beaver in my school classroom. We judt started the other day and i have to read a couple chapters when i forgot to bring my book home. Luckily, i have a nook and was able to read that night. Thank god for inventing nook colors.....
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a book that i read at school the book Is a really good book
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I read this book in fifth grade and i still remember it as one of my all time favorite books
mom2jandj More than 1 year ago
I bought this book for my 12 year old daughter to fulfill a nature themed book report. Although she is not an avid reader, she quickly finished this 135 page book in about a day and a half. When she was finished, she literally began giving me an impromptu oral book report in the kitchen! She could not stop talking about the story and its characters. Her favorite part was the relationship that Matt develops with Attean the Indian. This book is a Newberry Award winner and for good reason. Don't miss out!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a story written by Elizabeth Speare. This story is about a young boy that is left in the wilderness while his dad goes to get his family. While the young boy is left there, he runs into an Indian. The Sign of the Beaver is a very realistic book in my eyes, and I could see other young adults reading this book. This story takes place in the wilderness during the 1800s. Times are hard for the little boy, but thanks to the Indian he is able to survive on his own. He faces every challenge with his intelligence. This story shows that no matter how old you are with a little help and wit, a person can survive under extreme conditions. Matt is helping the Indian to learn how to read while the Indian is helping Matt to learn how to survive in the winter all alone. Matt is only helping the Indian in honor of the Indian helping him to survive. In my opinion this story is a very good story; it has vocabulary that is easy to understand, and is very interesting. This story is also very well explained.
Avid_Reader101 More than 1 year ago
This book was different. I liked it because it did draw you in to some ponits. It taught me alot about the wilderness, history, and a different launguage. This book gives a lesson that no matter what religion, color skin, or country of origin, any person can be friends with the most unlikely people.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I think this book was cool. This book had some action. It had a lot of suspense. There were Indians. A boy that is the age of 12 stays alone in a log cabin. His family is going to come to the log cabin. He and Indians meet a guy named Ben Lumus. Ben steals some thing of the boys. Ben gets caught in a trap. There is a boy Indian named Attean. Attean has a grandpa named Saknis. The boy tries to fit in with the Indians. His family has lost their baby from the flu and dies. He finally meets his family and I really enjoyed this book!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Sign of The Beaver was a great book. This book has a lot of suspense. It had perfect detail how people lived during the time. Matt and Attean his Indian friend from the Beaver tribe are my favorite characters. Matt, Attean, Saknis, Matt's Mother and father, Matt¿s sister, Attean¿s dog and Ben are all of the characters. Attean learns to read and speak English. Matt becomes a skilled hunter. Attean and his tribe go north for the winter. Attean and his grandpa Saknis in the beginning of the book rescued Matt. A animal goes in Matt¿s cabin and spills flour all over the place. I think everyone should read this book. I recommend it to everyone.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I think this book was pretty cool. A lot of suspense leading up to most of the events. He had to learn different styles of hunting such as fishing and hunting with bow and arrow. The book is WAY better than the movie. The book has a lot of food detail and you could perfectly picture the events. Twelve-year-old matt need to avoid bears and swarming bees. Matt's dad is going back to gat his family and matt needs to watch the cabin. Matt saw indians and he doesn't know if he could trust them or not. Him and his dad made a fair size cabin which something happens too. Matt needs to put all his life skills to the test.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The Sign of the Beaver, by Elizabeth George Speare, is a very exciting book. It combines both survival and perseverance into a great novel all in one. Personally, I liked this book because I like the outdoors and it taught me a lot about surviving in the wild. It shows how the Whites and Native Americans got along trying to live with each other. I especially liked how they explained how to make the weapons that Matt and Attean had, so this book increases your knowledge in the outdoors. If you like the outdoors and adventure you will like this book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The Sign of The Beaver, by Elizabeth George Speare, is an excellent book if you are looking for a tale of survival. It is a tale of Matt who is left alone in his cabin in Maine, until his father returns. Matt is a twelve year old boy who is brave and smart. He encounters Indians, who teach him secrets of the forest. The plot of the book is that Matt must survive on his own, because his father has left him to go get the rest of his family. Matt encounters a strange man named Ben, who ends up stealing his shotgun! Matt also is attacked by bees, because he was trying to get some of their honey, and then saved by some Indians. Matt also is running out of food, but that is soon fixed by the Indians. In the last part of the book, Matt has a big decision to make: Now that he has become friends of the Indians, they ask him to join them as they move north. Should he go with them or wait for his family that may never come? The setting took place in the time of the Indians. The Sign Of The Beaver has a survival theme to it. I liked this story because it is an adventure and survival kind of story, and I love those kind of books because you never know what is going to happen next. I can connect to this book because I love the wilderness and I know some survival techniques, like how to build a shelter, make a signal fire, and start a fire.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is a story of friendship. Matt is a young boy who must survive in the wilderness. An Indian boy befriends him and kindly heps him survive. This book makes you get the urge to read on. And it's written by one of my favorite authors!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was da bomb. I Don't like many books and I am in 10th grade and I really enjoy this book. My friends laugh when I said that I was enjoying the book we were reading in C.A. class but then when I told them about and they dug right into the books and belive me they don't enjoy reading books at all so make sure to read this book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
In 1768, a twelve-year-old boy by the name of Matt and his father went to Maine to clear land that the father purchased. Matt's family would be the first settlers here. Matt's father must return to Massachusetts for the rest of the family. Matt is left to guard the cabin, as well as the crops. Matt is rescued by an Indian Chief and his grandson Attean when he is attacked by swarming bees. The boys develop a strong bond. Matt teaches Attean to speak English, and Attean shows Matt the ways of the Beaver tribe. When Matt's family does not return, Matt is faced with the decision to stay and guard the cabin and crops, or become a member of the beaver tribe.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is an awesome story about the reality of life in the 1700's. Reality was not always the perfect ending. This story tells the tale of a boy, left alone out of necessity, to take care of a farm while the family went away. He encounters all sorts of dangers and befriends an indian boy who helps him. This is a great story about friendship, commitment, courage, and a determination to live. I recommend this book to people old enough to understand that life is not just a bed of roses! Times are hard sometimes, and you just have to do the best you can to survive, both physically, and mentally. This book also informs about native indian traditions and lifestyles. I definitely would recommend it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I am a fourth grader named Nick. I did a research report looking at the positive side, negative side, and my perspective of The Sign of the Beaver. I will write the pros, cons, and my evaluation of the story. The pro's of the book are that the characters are very good natured and adventurous. Another good thing about the story is all of the adventures the two boys, Matt and Attean, have together. In one chapter, the two boys take down a bear! The literary selection is action packed and is a good book for fans of historical fiction. Something else I liked was that the book had won a Newberry Honor Award. That was a good selection of a book that would get the award. The cons of the book are that there are four or five offensive stereotypes. In the chapter after Matt and Attean kill the bear, Attean comes to get Matt to come to his village to feast on the bear. When the Indians begin to dance, it says that the Indian at the front of the line danced and pranced in ridiculous contortions, and no Native American would deliberately hurt his own pride. Another bad thing about The Sign of the Beaver is that Native Americans always talk like inferior human beings. That would offend any Native American that read the story. From my perspective, The Sign of the Beaver is a good read for fans of adventure and survival novels. There are a few offensive stereotypes, but overall it is a good story. One thing I liked about The Sign of the Beaver is that the characters are very real. Matt is like a real 1760's pioneer, Attean's tools and weapons are extremely accurate, and Saknis acts like a real Penobscot chief. The book is, overall, a great historical fiction novel. Enjoy!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is a story about a boy named Matt who had to take care of his family's cabin in Maine around the year 1769. While his father returned to Quincy, Massachussetts to get the rest of the family, Matt met a Penobscott boy named Attean. Attean's grandfather, the tribe's chief, set up a deal in which Attean would provide food for Matt if Matt would teach him how to read and write. Attean ends up teaching Matt more than either of them expected. If you want to find out more--including the reason why it's entitled 'Sign of the Beaver'--you need to read the book! We liked this book because it is full of surprises and adventure, and we also learned a little bit about Native American games. However, some of us believe that the author may not have portrayed the Native Americans in the most honest way possible. Overall, we highly recommend the book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
We got this book in audio format for a long roadtrip. I was tired of all the murder mysteries and serial killers that are the glut of audio fiction. So I headed to the children's section to see what I could find. I had heard of the author's other book, the Witch of Blackbird Pond, and appreciated the value of the Newberry, so we gave it a try--at 9.99 it was also a bargain. What a great book! I would have loved this book as a kid, and still thoroughly enjoyed it in my 30s. It is very detailed, especially in explaining how Atean teaches Matt to hunt, fish, make snares, and many other things. The story moves along a good pace and keeps you interested. The two main characters are well-developed, and you even get a good sense of tertiary characters, such as Atean's grandfather, Matt's father, and even Atean's dog. The only violence is minor and is related to subsistence hunting. I don't remember any language a parent of young children would find questionable. I would highly recommend this book in either form. I'm usually not an audio book fan, I prefer to do my own reading!, but this one really kept my interest and made the drive easier.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is about a twelve year old boy named Matt. Matt is left alone by himself when his father is gone to get the rest of the family. When Matts father is gone a theif comes and takes Matts gun. Now Matt has no way of getting food. Matt goes up a tree for honey when bees sworm around him. Matt jumps in a pond when Matt is in the pond two indians help him out of the pond. To pay the indians back he teaches Attean (the young indian) how to read. Now Attean is teaching Matt how to hunt and fish in the forest. Read this book to find out more adventures of Sign of the Beaver