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The Sign of the Beaver

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At just 12 years old, Matt must face serious challenges in the Maine wilderness while awaiting his father's return to their cabin.

When he is saved from a terrifying bee swarm attack by an Indian chief and his grandson Attean, Matt gains a valuable friend in the young Indian boy.

As the boys become closer and learn new skills from each other, Matt must face a heart-wrenching decision when the tribe decides to move north.  Is it time for Matt to move on with Attean's tribe and give up hope of his family ever returning?


First published April 27, 1983

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About the author

Elizabeth George Speare

51 books1,009 followers
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 children’s literature.

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5 stars
10,824 (30%)
4 stars
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3 stars
8,664 (24%)
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 2,085 reviews
Profile Image for Julie G .
886 reviews2,757 followers
August 17, 2019
It's the time of the American Revolution and new Americans like Matt and his family are heading out to colonize areas of virgin territory.

Matt and his father head to Maine territory to stake their claim, which involves declaring their land, building a home and planting crops. Once they've accomplished this, Matt's father is tasked with returning to their home town in Massachusetts to gather Ma, younger sister Sarah, and the new baby, so they may start their lives together in their new home.

In order for Pa to travel to retrieve the rest of the family, he must leave behind Matt to protect their claim.

And poor Matt is only 13, when he realizes that He was alone, with miles of wilderness stretching on every side.

He's alone, without a good dog (theirs has died), and his only gun is stolen by a sketchy trapper in one of the very first chapters.


Indians are around, and they're both bitter and bemused by this lonely white boy, defending his wood and mud castle. They have awful lines, like, “Me no see 'um like white man do.”

But there's a dog in the story (owned by the Indian boy) and a fox and a bear, and you can't help but cheer for young Matt, because, frankly, he's been put in a lousy position.

This was a read aloud at our house, a special treat for my 10-year-old (without her 7-year-old sister—much arguing ensued!!), and she's an animal NUTTER, so the dog alone captured her interest.

I'm a dog nut myself, and I own “only” three, because I can't afford to feed more than three the way I do (organic and free range food), but I would own ten if I could. No, I'm not kidding, if I had more money or more land (or staff), I'd happily own 10 dogs.

So. . . the realization of how crucial it was to own a dog hit me hard in this story. I can't even imagine being out in the woods with the bears and stinky humans without a loyal dog.

The moral to the story: a good dog is hard to find.
Profile Image for Ahmad Sharabiani.
9,566 reviews56.7k followers
December 24, 2019
The Sign of the Beaver, Elizabeth George Speare
The idea for this book came from a factual story that Elizabeth George Speare discovered in Milo, Maine about a young boy who was left alone for a summer in the wilderness and was befriended by a Native American, named Attean, and his grandfather. The novel has been adapted into a television film titled Keeping the Promise.

تاریخ نخستین خوانش: روز بیست و چهارم ماه دسامبر سال 2015 میلادی
عنوان: در س‍رزم‍ی‍ن‌ س‍رخ‍پ‍وس‍ت‌؛ ن‍ویسنده‌: ال‍ی‍زاب‍ت‌ ج‍رج‌ اس‍پ‍ی‍ر؛ مت‍رج‍م: پ‍روی‍ن‌ ع‍ل‍ی‌پ‍ور؛ وی‍راس‍ت‍ار: م‍ح‍م‍درض‍ا ب‍ای‍رام‍ی‌؛ ب‍رای‌ م‍رک‍ز آف‍ری‍ن‍ش‍ه‍ای‌ ادب‍ی‌؛ ت‍ه‍ران‌: س‍ازم‍ان‌ ت‍ب‍ل‍ی‍غ‍ات‌ اس‍لام‍ی‌، ح‍وزه‌ ه‍ن‍ری‌، س‍وره‌ م‍ه‍ر‏‫، 1383؛ در 175 ص؛ شابک: 9644718194؛ چاپ دیگر: 1389؛ در 240 ص؛شابک: 9786001750519؛
عنوان: علامت سمور؛ نویسنده: الیزابت جرج اسپیر ؛ مترجم: نسرین وکیلی، پارسا مهین‌پور؛ تهران: نشر قطره، ‏‫1390؛ در 160 ص؛ شابک: 9786001193859؛

آنها مهاجران سرزمینی تازه اند. سرزمینی که هنوز آتش قبایلی از سرخپوستها، در گوشه و کنارش روشن است. «در سرزمین سرخپوست» داستان پسری سفید پوست، به نام «مات» است، که به انتظار اعضای خانواده ی خویش، ماهها در یک کلبه ی جنگلی تنها میماند. این زمان طولانی، فرصتی برای آشنایی او با سرخپوستها، و دوستیش با پسری به نام «آتین» را، فراهم میآورد. داستان بر پایه ی تفاوتهای رفتاری، و فکری این دو پسر شکل میگیرد، «مات» قراراست به «آتین»، خواندن و نوشتن یاد بدهد. اما جریان این یادگیری، یکسویه نمیماند، و کم کم «مات»، با مراسم، آیینها و شیوه زندگی سرخپوستان آشنا میشود. استفاده نویسنده از داستان «رابینسون کروزوئه» در طول قصه، به عنوان کتابی که برای یادگیری خواندن و نوشتن مورد استفاده قرار میگیرد، و تغییر موقعیت قهرمان سیاهپوست و سفیدپوست داستان، در عالم واقع، یکی از فصلهای درخشان داستان را شکل میدهد. ا. شربیانی
Profile Image for Karina.
825 reviews
August 3, 2019
Great historical fiction novel for YAs. The year is 1768 in Maine. The white men are taking land from the Native Americans. Thirteen-year-old Matt is left alone after the cabin home in the wilderness is built to grab his pregnant wife and young daughter in Massachusetts. While Matt awaits for their return a sly white man steals his prized rifle. When the rifle is gone, Matt realizes he will starve if he cannot shoot his meals or protect himself.

While in the woods one day he gets a hankering for honey, climbing a tree with a honeycomb and many bees. He has now pissed off the bees. Matt dives into the water nearby nearly drowning. Saknis, a Native American chief, has been taking care of this white boy through the forest and saves his life. Matt and Saknis' grandson, Attean, form a friendship full of respect and learning. It is because of Attean's teaching that Matt can survive his circumstances. He also broadens Matt's ideals with questions Matt thought, he as a white person, had rights to.

"An uncomfortable doubt had long been troubling Matt. Now, before Attean went away, he had to know. 'This land,' he said slowly, 'this place where my father built his cabin. Did it belong to your grandfather? Did he own it once?"

"'How one man own ground?' Attean questioned?"

"Well my father owns it now. He bought it."

"I not understand.' Attean scowled. "How can man own land? Land same as air. Land for all people to live on. For beaver and deer. Does deer own land?" (PG 116-117)

(White man now has homes in the low $500k... LOL)

I wish history had been taught with truth instead of the boring half-truths we received. Did you know... that the Commonwealth of Massachusetts paid bounty on Indian scalps? And they were considered the savages? Hmmm... Shameful fact of American history my history teacher never told me about or I would have paid more attention in class.

Enjoyed the story. Short and to the point. Teaching young kids the "importance of seeing other humans- no matter how different- as beings worthy of respect." Joseph Bruchac (Introduction)
Profile Image for Cindy Rollins.
Author 22 books2,026 followers
February 6, 2017
For this category of book: Historical Fiction Mid-Elementary to Middle School this is a 5 Star book.

It is a great book to give a child who needs reading practice but likes good stories. I had my recent students
read it aloud to me and it was perfect for that also.

I have read it several times and still did not get bored this time around.

I would say this also qualifies as The Literature of Honor for Middle Boys which I have not put together yet.
Profile Image for Donalyn.
Author 8 books5,917 followers
May 26, 2017
I read this book years ago before I started my Goodreads account and added it to my shelves based on my long term memories of it, but I have lowered my original rating (from 4 stars to 2 stars) after reading several newer articles about its problematic misrepresentation of Native Americans. Please reference these articles in the comments below.
Profile Image for Manybooks.
3,129 reviews104 followers
October 15, 2022
Honestly, but for a book published in the 1980s (even in the early 1980s, even in 1983), Elizabeth George Speare's The Sign of the Beaver, it textually and in my humble opinion sounds more like something from the 19th to mid 20th century (or earlier). And while Matt and Attean's friendship is (I guess) generally positively enough depicted, it certainly and totally does NOT AT ALL change or mitigate the truth of the matter that what Elizabeth George Speare has penned in The Sign of the Beaver is for and to me at best massively and sadly stereotyping and (even if likely completely unintentionally) horribly denigrating, racist and bigoted towards Native Americans.

For sadly and annoyingly, The Sign of the Beaver is textually quite replete with ridiculous and ignorant assertions regarding Native Americans and with Elizabeth George Speare also constantly perpetuating and even if I am to be blunt and brutally honest seemingly agreeing with many of the same lame and vile myths and stereotypes European settlers have historically used to justify cultural and actual genocide (and of course kicking Native Americans off of their tribal lands in the process), describing them, depicting Native Americans as generally lazy, dirty, intellectually sub-par, and yes, by Elizabeth George Speare having in The Sign of the Beaver all her Native American characters talk in a broken pigeon English that first and foremost makes them seem and appear as not all that intelligent (and not to mention that the repeated and rather gratuitous usage in The Sign of the Beaver of racially charged slurs like Squaw and Redskins is horrid and in particular so since the author, since Elizabeth George Speare often has her Native American characters utter them).

And while the stereotyping and racially intolerant innuendo and taint found within the pages of The Sign of the Beaver might have been acceptable (albeit still disturbingly cringeworthy) in children's novels from earlier decades and be grudgingly accepted as representing a sign of the time, sorry, but to read this blatant ignorance and racially insensitive bigotry emanating from Elizabeth George Speare's pen in 1983, to and for me, this is not only totally and utterly unacceptable but I also really and truly must question why and how The Sign of the Beaver was awarded a 1984 Newbery Honour designation. And for those claiming that The Sign of the Beaver has simply not aged aged all that well, while this is indeed true to a point, there is actually rather a double whammy to be encountered, as I think it becomes pretty obvious that Elizabeth George Speare's text, that The Sign of the Beaver is petty horribly dated and sad even for the 1980s.
Profile Image for Aaron C.
3 reviews
May 6, 2010
In my book, Sign of the Beaver, Matt an English teenage settler befriends and Indian named Attean. I found this book interesting because during this time the English and the Indians had a relationship that could best be described as fighting.
I couldn’t get over the fact that Matt seemed to be realizing slowly that he wasn’t just bonding with Attean but slowly growing the relationship of a friend. Once Matt started to get to know Attean, through Attean’s father, the boys started to do things together. Attean taught Matt to hunt and trap. Matt taught Attean to speak English. They bonded further when Attean invited Matt to a tribal celebration. Sharing these experiences made Matt comfortable with Attean and he knew he had someone he could count on. He felt less alone in the wilderness. Also he had someone to rely on.
I think this friendship was odd was because of their races. This friendship would be crazy because Attean was an Indian. It’s like a white man becoming friends with a African American man during civil rights. Everything going on around them was against it but neither if them let that affect them. I didn’t see much of that but I could tell from the first time Matt met Attean that he had never had an Indian as a best friend before. In fact he never knew why. That’s one of the reasons I think this author did that. Not just to express how strange this relationship was for this time but too also show how easy it was for people of two different cultures could become friends and be okay with it.
Finally I think matt realized this friendship was different than others because he didn’t end up caring that Attean was an Indian he was just concentrated on him being a friend and a good one at that. I felt that Matt found the true meaning of friendship to him. That’s what I got from this book. Someone you think is an enemy becomes a friend.
Profile Image for Alaina.
6,317 reviews215 followers
April 26, 2021
The Sign of the Beaver was a really cute book to dive into. Again, another one that was never on my radar until recently. I feel like that happens a lot when you join a challenge - you run into books that you never knew existed.

In it, you will meet Matt. He and his father went to go claim territory and build a new house for their family. Once it was completed, his dad went back to go get the rest of the family. Which leaves Matt by himself in a place he doesn't know well enough. Things don't go easy for him either and it also doesn't help that he is only thirteen years old. Yikes!

This book totally flew by for me and it also dove into great topics. Especially when it comes to people who look different from you. It definitely leaves with the message that all humans deserve respect no matter what.
Profile Image for Linda Martin.
Author 1 book70 followers
March 6, 2023
I read this out loud to my children many long years ago, and don't remember much about it. Since I've read multiple complaints of it being racist against Native Americans I've thought about rereading it to see what I didn't notice the first time. I don't know if I will.

I recently read another book by the same author, Calico Captive. In that book the Native Americans were the aggressors, kidnapping a young girl and her family, then selling them to the French in Canada to be used as slaves. One could say that's anti-Native American... the only problem with that theory being, it was based on a true story captivity narrative. It happened near the start of the French and Indian War (1754–1763).

The author also wrote The Witch of Blackbird Pond which I remember as being somewhat anti-Puritan, and The Bronze Bow which is set in Israel during Biblical times.

I've read all these books and never had any reason to dislike any of them which is why I find it hard to understand that people attack The Sign of the Beaver for being racist because a lonely boy settler tried to teach a Native American boy how to read.

Also it occurs to me that if a settler boy at that time was raised to think that Native Americans could be dangerous at times, wouldn't it be normal for some fear thoughts to occur? I think the author was trying to be true to the times which is important in historical fiction.

As I recall she was also showing that in the time of the boy's dire need (he was alone at his family's new home) the Native Americans offered their friendship and the comfort of having other human beings around. He may have been afraid of them or uncomfortable when he was initially introduced to their culture, but they were a great help to him. That's how I remember the book.

Anyhow, I probably should reread this book. I haven't read it since about 1995. I remember my children and I enjoyed the book when we read it together so I'm giving it four stars.
Profile Image for Kris.
1,306 reviews173 followers
April 10, 2021
A quite enjoyable read for a Sunday afternoon. It's simple and easy, asking relevant questions for any young kid in elementary school. Historical without being too overwhelmingly detailed. Heartfelt and sincere without being too sappy. I feel like I read this back during my early homeschool days, but I've no memory of it.
Profile Image for Scarlett Sims.
798 reviews31 followers
April 8, 2010
Ok. I had heard various Native American reviewers pan this book for its stereotypical portrayals. I'm still not that great at evaluating Native American literature but I'll list some things that stuck out to me:
1. Usage of the word squaw. I'm pretty sure that's generally not ok.
2. Going off #1, Speare gives the impression that women were not valued in "Indian" culture.
3. I don't think a tribe name is ever mentioned. The Indians are referred to and refer to themselves as "Indians." (from context I think they are Algonquin?)(update: I looked at Debbie Reese's blog and they are Penobscot)
4. The Indians all speak in stereotypical bad English. I guess at a time when not many could speak English, this might be somewhat realistic but I know it's frowned upon.
5. It seems awfully easy for Matt (the protagonist) to become basically an "honorary Indian."

I think Speare was trying to do a good thing here, showing that the boys could be friends and Matt ends up rejecting some of his prejudices against Indians. However, if you were teaching this book, you'd need to address the things she does wrong.

If you want more in-depth analysis of the problems with this book I suggest checking out Debbie Reese's blog located at americanindiansinchildrensliterature.blogspot.com
Profile Image for Sasha.
101 reviews5 followers
June 27, 2008
Great book for young men! I liked the illustration of "both sides of the story" from the Native American point of view as well as the English settler. I loved the continual comparison to Robinson Crusoe as well as the Bible references and similar Native American version of the story of Noah. I cried when Attean and Matt had to say goodbye. Great story of survival and hope.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Rachel.
Author 12 books152 followers
December 5, 2022
I remember loving this book as a youngster. Anything to do with American Indian life has always fascinated me, and when you add that to a story about a kid living off the land on his own, and I was destined to be a fan.

Happily, this book totally lived up to my memories of its excellence. I read it aloud to my kids this fall, and all three of them were enthralled. I suspect they'll be rereading it themselves now.

My perspective on this story was a little different now that I'm a parent of half-grown kids myself. I kept imagining what his father must have felt, leaving his twelve-year-old son alone in the middle of the wilderness to take care of the new cabin and the growing crops alone. But, mostly, I got caught up in the adventure of the story and simply enjoyed it the way I did when I was a tween myself.
Profile Image for Amanda Tero.
Author 27 books525 followers
November 12, 2022
I keep trying to figure out if I’d read this before. So many aspects of the story are familiar, yet several parts aren’t (my mom may have read it aloud and I only caught some parts).

Regardless, this was another fascinating historical fiction story that gives a solid glimpse into life in the wilderness. There is some mysticism references that some parents may want to discuss.

It’s probably my least favorite of Speare’s books, but seeing that I adore all her other books, it just means I like this one regularly. ;)
13 reviews2 followers
May 27, 2015
This book was very detailed that almost made the book way more interesting. When I found out that the book was based off of an actual story (well mostly) I was shocked with surprise because I usually HATE with a capital H.A.T.E Historical Fiction. The ending of this book took me by surprise because Ben never came back and take something else like Matt's fishing line. He is such a mysterious character that the was surprise to me.
Profile Image for Teresa.
83 reviews
April 13, 2023
Such a wonderful and important read, especially in the 2020s. More than just a coming of age, boy on his own in the wilderness tale, it delicately shows how people from different cultural backgrounds (who have every reason to distrust and fear one another) can learn to put aside differences and bond over achieving common goals. What a lesson we need in modern times!

I appreciate the way this book deals with the issue of racism, an issue that cannot be avoided when telling a tale about white settlers on Native American land in the 19th century. Even in 1983 when this book was published, it's clear that EGS was purposely and intentionally writing Native American characters who were highly intelligent in both mind and emotion, certainly moreso than the white protagonist of the story, and that she took great care to show that the perceptions by many white people of the time were wrong. The main character, a ten year old white settler, comes to think differently of not only the natives themselves, but of the way of life of his own people ("Can my father really 'own' this land? Can any man 'own' land?") through the friendship he develops with the young native boy, Attean. A friendship that develops slowly through shared experiences and a forced need to learn from one another.

We need to read more books like this today, and to ensure our children are reading these books, so they can have a better understanding than the generations before them of why it is important to look beyond your own experience and learn from others and be willing to let them learn from you.
Profile Image for Amy.
515 reviews38 followers
March 21, 2021
This did not age well. I would never read this to my 4 year old friend who is Mi’kmaq, never mind any of the other kids in my life, out of shame and embarrassment that this was held up as award winning mandatory elementary school reading in the 80’s. Filled with nonsense racist stereotypes and invisiblizing actual identity (who are the Indigenous people Matt is repeatedly saved by? We don’t get to find out as supposedly the Indigenous people themselves would rather self identity by racial slurs then their nation) this is a white boy colonialist adventure story that ultimately fails to offer anything but a reinforcement of this supremacy over the original people’s, the creatures that live on the land and the land itself. There are a few sections in the book that have elements that could be teachable aha moments but there are so many problematic aspects of the book I’d be very weary giving it to any kid as reading material.
Profile Image for Liam.
27 reviews
May 25, 2016
I thought the Sign of the Beaver was a five star book because there was so much action that made you wonder will he make it or something else. We read this book during class. It had so many wondering moments like " Will Matts parents make it back to sleep the cabin?" That's why I gave this book the amazing five stars because it was one of the best books I have read.
Profile Image for Sara Hollar.
292 reviews18 followers
May 4, 2022
The first read aloud in awhile that we all rated 5 stars! I have 3 boys, ages 9, 7, & 5, and this book is very much geared towards that gender and age. The book is thin, but it's not the fast paced, quick read of a modern novel. It's rich and deserves to be taken slowly. I loved that it spoke to the Native American's perspective. What would it be like to be a native when the white man just moves right in? It was great at presenting that angle. Overall this was fantastic and I'm so glad we read it!
Profile Image for Jane Stewart.
2,462 reviews848 followers
June 25, 2016
3 ½ stars. Nice story for ages 10 and up.

It’s educational about surviving in the wild Indian style - and seeing a friendship develop between Indian boy Attean and Matt who is 12 years old. Attean’s grandfather wants Matt to teach Attean how to read and write in white man’s language. Attean teaches Matt how to trap, fish, make a bow and arrow, etc. I liked learning things that the Indians did.

It’s a pleasant read, but it didn’t excite me or surprise me the way “Hatchet” by Gary Paulsen did. Hatchet was the story of a boy surviving alone in the Canadian wilderness after a plane crash. Matt lives alone in a cabin in the wilderness in 1768 Maine. Matt and his father built a cabin and planted corn and pumpkins. Then the father left for many months to get his wife and other child to bring them to the cabin.

Narrative mode: 3rd person. Story length: 144 pages. Swearing language: none. Sexual content: none. Setting: 1768 Maine. Copyright: 1983. Genre: children’s fiction.
Profile Image for Charlene.
893 reviews76 followers
February 4, 2022
Audiobook . . . good story to listen to. I still enjoy elementary/middle school historical adventure fiction. It is the late 1700s when twelve year old Matt is left alone in the new cabin he and his father have built in the Maine woods while his father returns to Massachusetts for the rest of the family. He's in charge of keeping up the small garden and preparing the cabin for winter -- his father promises to return by August. There are no neighbors. Really brings to mind how much responsibility and work pioneers expected from children.

August passes; family does not return. Matt is befriended by an Indian boy, just a year older than he is, and learns a lot about the woods around him and the Indian way of life. This book was written in the 1980s; while one of its themes is acceptance and appreciation of Indian culture, it doesn't have the research or wording that would be expected of an author writing now.

Profile Image for Jennifer.
2,380 reviews51 followers
April 29, 2009
2.5 stars

This book was a well-written and entertaining boy-coming-of-age-in-nature story in the same genre as books like My Side of the Mountain, Summer of the Monkeys, and Where the Red Fern Grows. However, since it as copyrighted in 1983, and concerns Indians, I couldn't help but be wary of it, especially considering that it is a Newbery Honor book that I remember was required reading for most 4th graders when I was in elementary school. While the portrayal of Native Americans in The Sign of the Beaver isn't negative, I did find it stereotypical with Native Americans being used more as a symbol of the ideal of living in harmony with nature, and the "White Man" being used as a symbol of the costs of the industrialism, exploration, and the expansion of "western" civilization.

I'm also a suspect of the fact that the tribe that the main character encounters is never named, and that some of the "Indian culture" seems like a mishmash of different tribal practices, or what people would stereotypically think of when they think of Indians, such as all the men wearing only loin cloths; the women doing all the work while being disdained by the men, who only hunt; and the coming-of-age spirit-vision quest for young braves. While some tribes actually did (and maybe still do) practice these things, it just seemed to me as if not much research went into writing the novel to make it good historical fiction.

In remembering that this book was required reading for many elementary school students, I'm sure that many people remember it with fondness, and many teachers think that it it great reading. However, for the reasons that I've stated, I don't believe that it's good multicultural literature, that there are many other better books for children to read, and that, while the book is not racist in the sense that overtly negative ideas are made about Native Americans, it is still detrimental because of the stoic Indian nature-preserver stereotype that it propagates.
16 reviews
September 8, 2012
This was an awesome book. I love reading books like this that show how friendships can develop even when you're of different cultures.
20 reviews
June 2, 2016
I agree with Liam,this book was truly amazing!I also gave this book 5 stars!
Profile Image for Laura.
733 reviews84 followers
October 2, 2020
Another reviewer said this is a five star book for late elementary/early middle, and it is! Elizabeth George Spear tells great stories that bring historical periods to life. My 5th grader’s imagination was immediate sparked by the possibilities of living alone in the woods, preparing a home for her family. I loved The Bronze Bow when I was a middle schooler and I’m finally catching up and reading the rest of her books!
Profile Image for Amelia.
44 reviews3 followers
June 8, 2018
This book was really good the only thing i did not like is that I thought the ending was weird because all that Matt did was tell his parents about Attean I thought it was going to be a little bit more of exiting ending then that. So i gave this book 4 STARS!
Profile Image for Ellen.
568 reviews1 follower
May 8, 2023
I listened to this on a quick day trip with my kids (8 & 6). It kept all of our attention and I quite enjoyed it. Honestly, some of it might have been a bit over my kids' heads simply because they don't have a great grasp on how it was living without electricity and the modern conveniences of life. But it led to some good discussions on what we would do in the situations that Matt and Attean found themselves in.
Profile Image for Kim.
658 reviews4 followers
March 16, 2018
When Matt's father goes to fetch his mother and siblings from Quincy, Massachusetts, he leaves Matt alone on their new homestead in Maine. Before long, Matt has met a few people, and forms a significant relationship with Attean, a Penobscot boy, and his grandfather. The grandfather's original intent is for Matt to teach Attean to read, but before long it becomes clear that Attean is the teacher rather than Matt, and that without the input of Attean and his grandfather, Matt's survival would have been much more precarious. This book is set in 1768, at a time when Maine was still a "frontier," and was originally written in 1983.

I read this book because my nine-year-old / 4th grade son - who has only ever gushed about Harry Potter - told me he LOVED this book - just absolutely LOVED it. He said that there is "action in every chapter... there's always something happening... I love the story, and the time period, and what happens to Matt, and just everything." So if you are looking for a book for a nine-year-old boy, that's my son's review.

If you are neither a 4th grader nor looking for a 4th grader: this was still a delightful book. A quick read for an adult, I can see why it captured my son's attention. I have been reading the Laura Ingalls Wilder books with my daughter, and while this has the same frontier / wild America feel that her books have, it is much more tightly written with less wordiness and excessive detail. While I can't speak to the historical accuracy per se, the author conveys a distinct respect for the ability of Attean and his tribe to thrive without access to the things on which Matt depends at the beginning of the book. As a result, there is a transformation of his character: he matures, begins to see that "other" is not bad, discovers how much he has to learn and how little he knew, and begins to see the world through Attean's eyes. By the end of the book, Attean has taught him invaluable survival skills such as how to make a fishhook from wood, how to make a proper bow and arrow, how to spear a fish, mark a path through the forest, identify different hunting territories, and so on.

I saw a few comments on this page regarding "accuracy" and "cultural sensitivity" and "language" associated with low ratings of this book. To me, such comments lack depth and insight, and are unnecessarily judgemental. We must judge books through our own lenses, but also through the lens of the era in which they were written. With that in mind, I cannot agree with such critiques.

In some ways, even though this book is 35 years old, it is entirely appropriate for our present day. There is no glorifying Matt's culture and there is no belittling of Attean's. Rather, I think Speare clearly presents a people who have adapted to the harshness of their climate, and whose way of life is being gradually destroyed.

This is both a lovely and educational story about characters who display emotional growth and learning throughout the book, and it is a snapshot of a world on the cusp of enormous change. I am so glad my son discovered a love of reading through this book, and encourage others to share this with their children as well.
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