The Sign of the Beaver

infobox Book |
name = The Sign of the Beaver
title_orig |

image_caption =
author = Elizabeth George Speare
illustrator =
cover_artist =
country = United States
language = English
series =
genre = Children's, Historical novel
publisher = Houghton Mifflin
release_date = February 1983
english_release_date =
media_type = Print (Hardback & Paperback) & Audio Book
pages = 144 pp
isbn = ISBN 0-395-33890-5
preceded_by =
followed_by =

"The Sign of the Beaver" is a historical fiction children's novel by author Elizabeth George Speare, which won numerous awards for its strong literary merit (list below). It was published in February 1983, and has become one of her classic and most popular works. "The Sign of the Beaver" has also been made into a television movie, called "Keeping the Promise". This book is recommended to readers aged 10 or 11.

The idea for this book came from a short story that Elizabeth George Speare discovered, about a young boy who was left alone for a summer in the Maine wilderness and was befriended by an Indian and his young son.

Plot summary

"The Sign of the Beaver" tells the story of a 13-year-old boy named Matt and his father, who, as early settlers, together build a wooden cottage in Maine in 1768. However, Matt's father must head back to Quincy, Massachusetts to fetch Matt's mother, sister, and soon-to-be-born sibling who were all left behind. Matt's father promises to return in seven weeks and Matt is left alone with his father's old watch (a family heirloom) and a hunting rifle to guard the family's newly-built homestead and field crops. Unfortunately, Matt finds himself enduring many hardships for which he is unprepared. His hunting rifle is stolen by a drifter named Ben, his crop is picked over by the wildlife, and his food supplies are pillaged by a hungry bear.

Wanting to sweeten his bland diet, Matt attempts to raid a bee hive for honey and is attacked by the furious insects. Attempting to escape the swarm he dives into the lake, losing a boot and spraining his ankle in the process. Luckily, Matt's foolhardy adventure has not gone unnoticed and he is pulled from the water. Ironically the very Indians he has learned to fear, through tales of murder and kidnapping, have saved his life.

His numerous stings are treated by the elderly Penobscot Indian chief named Saknis. After recovering, the thankful Matt offers his only book, "Robinson Crusoe", as a token to Saknis. However, Saknis & his grandson, Attean, cannot read English. Saknis instead requests that Matt teach Attean to read, in return they will provide him with meat. Uncertain of how to teach anyone, especially the unwilling boy, Matt accepts the task out of gratitude and courtesy, as he owes his life to the man.

Matt does not immediately befriend Attean, although the two young boys eventually form a strong friendship as they help each other through difficult circumstances. When Matt's family has not yet returned after many months Attean invites Matt to join his tribe, who are moving North to new hunting grounds. Although Matt is good friends with Attean and enjoys Indian culture, he has not forgotten his family. Matt is forced to make a decision, should he stay behind at the cabin and wait for his family who may never return, or should he join the Beaver Clan and risk never seeing his family again?

He decides to wait, although parting from his new friend, Attean, is difficult. The two boys trade gifts, Matt giving Attean his treasured watch and Attean leaving his dog behind with Matt. Sure enough, Matt's family returns in the winter, just as the first small snow of the season arrives.

Awards and nominations

*A Newbery Honor Book
*1983 Josette Frank Award
*Christopher Award
*A Booklist Editors' Choice
*Horn Book Fanfare
*Scott O'Dell Award for Historical Fiction
*An American Library Association Notable Children's Book
*An American Library Association Best Book for Young Adults
*The New York Times Best Book of the Year


A 1997 movie was also made based on the novel. The plot and story are generally the same except for the following differences in the book:

# Matt does not know James.
# James only lives five days.
# James is never given a name.
# Katie does not exist.
# Ben Lewmis does not help Matt's parents.
# Matt tries to steal honey from the bee tree.
# Matt appears to know Attean longer.
# Matt does not get his rifle back from Ben.

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