The Sign of the Beaver, by Elizabeth George Speare, was originally published in 1983, but I had never heard of it before. It is a historical novel, set in the 1700s, about a twelve-year-old boy, Matt, who is left in the Maine wilderness at the new cabin he and his father have built. They are the first to start a new settlement. His father has returned to gather the rest of the family and move them to the new cabin. Matt is left alone to continue to settle in until his father returns.
From my student's point of view, he found it hard to believe a boy his own age would be left behind in the middle of the wilderness to take care of himself for weeks. My student also found the relationship between Matt and his father strange because, in the very beginning, it says that Matt's father doesn't talk much, even when it was just Matt and his father building the cabin together. Once we got past that part, we both became interested in reading to see how the boy would do on his own. My student predicted Matt would make a lot of mistakes and, within the first few pages, he shook his head and smiled when he found his prediction was right. I guess twelve-year-old boys know twelve-year-old boys no matter what century they lived in.
The pacing of the book picks up pretty quickly in the beginning when Matt needs help one day and is rescued by an Indian chief and his grandson, Attean. The grandfather wants Attean to learn to read the 'white man's signs', and he wants Matt to teach him read. Attean doesn't want to, but doesn't want to disobey his grandfather. What starts out as a forced, strained relationship between the two boys slowly begins to look more like a friendship as they share adventures together.
I found this book to be a treasure because it is a story about a friendship formed between two boys who are as different as they are alike. It focuses on what Matt thought of the Native Americans before getting to know Attean, just as Attean learns to deal with his own preconceived notions of white men. The story moves quickly and has equal amounts of serious moments and light-hearted, humorous ones. I found myself smiling many times as I read.
Since finishing the book, I've learned a movie was made about it in 1997, but I haven't watched it yet. I also found there are many different covers for this book, but I'm partial to the one I have, which is pictured in this blog. It was the cover that drew me to the book, and my student was attracted to it, as well.
In a world of too many watered-down YA novels, where there seems to be more of an inclination to paranormal romances and the dregs of girl drama, it was refreshing to read an adventure of the historical kind. It's also good to know that my twelve-year-old student, who is being raised in a society of selfies and social media, still enjoys an adventure that has none of those things in it.