The Sign of the Beaver by Elizabeth George Speare
“This looks like a terrible book. This looks like the worst book in the world.” That’s what Eli said when I told him we were reading The Sign of the Beaver as our homeschool reading book* (which is a book I read in the morning, when we’re a bit more alert and can handle more challenging books than we might pick for bedtime chapter books). This is what Eli said after I read the first three pages: “Hey, actually, I kind of love this! This book is actually really great!”
And it is! I had read and loved The Witch of Blackbird Pond (also by Elizabeth George Speare) (and thank you, Emily, for the recommendation), but hadn’t read this. True, it’s frighteningly similar to Cabin on Trouble Creek but it’s, um (sorry, Jean Van Leeuwen, sorry) much better. In this story, Matt is left alone in the family’s new cabin while his father goes to get the rest of the family. He does a pretty good job of surviving, but does run into trouble, and is totally bailed out by the local Indians. The Indian chief ends up forcing his grandson, Attean, onto Matt, hoping Matt can teach Attean how to speak and read English. What starts as a fairly horrifying activity, as Attean is angry and taciturn, ends up, slowly, over time, growing into this amazing understanding and friendship. The months go by, and Matt’s family is very, very late, and the Indians come to him and say they’re going to leave, to go on a big moose hunt, and then they’re going to go farther west, since it’s time to get away from all the new white man settlements. They invite Matt to come with them, since he is like a brother to Attean, and they’re a bit worried about how he’ll survive the winter alone. And they say, as nicely as possible, “It doesn’t really seem like your family’s going to come.”
We had a long, long discussion about what we would do before we finished the book to see what Matt’s decision was. I was as excited to read this every morning as the kids were. I can’t wait to see what they think of The Witch of Blackbird Pond.
*In Eli’s defense, our copy of the book doesn’t have the cool giant bear shadow graphic you see, here, but has the 80’s-era let’s-make-Matt-and-Attean-look-like-they-could-be-on-the-cover-of-Tiger-Beat cover.