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Classic children’s fiction: 5 reasons to read Elizabeth George Speare’s Sign of the Beaver


The Sign of the Beaver by Elizabeth George Speare

Last week’s bestselling book on AbeBooks was The Sign of the Beaver by Elizabeth George Speare. It’s good to see a revival in interest for this wonderful children’s historical novel. It was published in 1983 and remains one of the author’s best known books.

The novel describes the adventures of 12-year-old American settler Matt James Halloway and his father, who are building a new life in 18th century Maine. When Matt’s father returns to Massachusetts to pick up the rest of the family, Matt is left alone at their log cabin and his challenges begin. The Beavers in the title are a Native American tribe. The novel was adapted into a TV film called Keeping the Promise starring Brendan Fletcher and Keith Carradine.

1) Elizabeth George Speare (1908-1994) was an expert in writing historical novels for children.  She won two Newbery medals (that puts her level with the likes of Lois Lowry and Katherine Paterson) and in 1989 she received the Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal for contributions to American children’s literature.

2) The author knew the woods of New England. Speare was born in Melrose, Massachusetts, and enjoyed a childhood spent mainly outdoors. She lived most of her life in New England.

3) The Sign of the Beaver explores the relationship between the white man and the natives, detailing the problems of when two such differing cultures collide.

4) Elizabeth George Speare was inspired to write the book after hearing a true story where a young boy was left alone in the New England wilderness.

5) Wilderness survival skills – from building a fire to finding shelter and hunting for food – are as relevant today as they were in 18th century Maine.

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