The Sign of the Beaver (1959), by Elizabeth George Speare

This is a seemingly fairly accurate presentation of the life of a young teenage boy left to tend the homestead while his father returns to civilization to fetch his mother, younger sister, and a new baby.  In the early days, Matt makes a number of mistakes, but is saved from the consequences of his stupidity by a local First Nations chief and his teenaged grandson.  Under arrangements by the grandfather, the two boys must work together, and consequently learn to first respect and then appreciate each other as brothers.  Each boy comes to manhood in his own, culturally specific way, and they part knowing that each must follow the path his own society constructs for him.  While not a YA novel, it presents a mature depiction of cross-cultural understanding that the young reader can learn from positively.

The power of the novel, however, is offset by the advertisement in the back pages for Speare’s Calico Captive, of which chapter 2 is reprinted.  Calico Captive, unlike either The Sign of the Beaver or The Witch of Blackbird Pond, seems to rely heavily on negative stereotypes of First Nations aggression.  While White people were historically taken captive, the scenes presented—albeit in isolation—from this third novel do not hold up well to scrutiny.


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