Study Guide

The Sign of the Beaver

By Elizabeth George Speare

The Sign of the Beaver Introduction

Meet Matt, the star of The Sign of the Beaver who, along with the help of Attean—a local Penobscot Indian—shows the 18th-century Maine wilderness who's boss. Well, kind of, anyway.

Left alone to guard their wilderness home while his dad journeys back to fetch the rest of his family, Matt is in over his head in just about every way possible—we're talking limited survival skills plus he's super afraid of the Indians that live in the area. And it's not like he can just pick up the phone and call his dad if he needs a little guidance or gets into a pickle either—remember that we're hanging out in the 1700s in this book. But this all means that the stakes are high and adventure lurks around every corner, which makes this a pretty captivating read.

That this book is set in historical New England isn't very surprising, seeing that the author is Elizabeth George Speare. Never heard of her? She's only one of America's most decorated children's historical fiction authors... But if you haven't heard of her, it's probably because she also only wrote a handful of books. Pretty impressive, right? Most authors write tons of books and consider themselves lucky if they win a handful of prizes along the way. Elizabeth George Speare, however, is not most authors.

And The Sign of the Beaver is not most books. It won the oh-so-glamorous Newbery Award, as well as a Christopher Award, an ALA Notable Children's Book Award, and the Scott O'Dell Award for Historical Fiction... to name just a few. It's safe to say, in other words, that this book is pretty awesome.

Awards aren't everything, though, and there are plenty of other reasons to pick this book up. Want to survive in the wilderness? Make a killer bow and arrow? Learn more about the 18th-century home of the Patriots and Penobscots? Then be sure to check out The Sign of the Beaver. It's got all that and more.

What is The Sign of the Beaver About and Why Should I Care?

There are no high school hallways in this book… The characters don't know what a telephone is, let alone the Internet… No one throws a single punch. And yet, this is an anti-bullying book.

Surprised? Confused? Just bear with us for a moment. See, Matt is white and Attean is Native American. The thing is, though, that Matt is afraid of Indians and Attean strongly dislikes white people—and at its heart, isn't that what bullying is all about? Making judgments about people based on superficial characteristics instead of actually getting to know them? We certainly think so, and we're willing to bet that if you or someone you care about has ever been bullied, you'll agree.

But while lots of times bullying ends tragically, in The Sign of the Beaver, Matt and Attean rise to the occasion and learn to let go of their prejudices in order to meet each other as people, instead of writing each other off based on stereotypes and flash judgments. And in doing so, Matt and Attean remind us that the more we get to know each other, the harder it is to fear or treat others cruelly.

So though it may be set in a completely different era, The Sign of the Beaver's an anti-bullying book for the ages.

The Sign of the Beaver Resources


Survival Snares
You're lost, out of food, and about to starve. Time to be like Matt and Attean and build your own snares.

Penobscots Today
Head to this site to find out what's happening in the Penobscot Indian Nation today.

Experience the Culture
Want to learn more about the Penobscot Indian culture? This is the place to go.

It's Not the French Versus the Indians...
Who fought in the French and Indian War? Why were the groups fighting? Find out answers to these questions, and more.

Writing a Lesson Plan?
Here are some ideas for you.

Movie or TV Productions

Keeping the Promise
Though they changed the name, Keeping the Promise is the movie version of The Sign of the Beaver. Which title do you think fits best?

Articles and Interviews

R.I.P. Elizabeth George Speare
Learn about Speare's life and the reason she chose historical fiction in this tribute to her life.


Um... Not Quite
Check out this trailer for a movie version of the novel that seems to take a whole lot of liberties with the characters and plot.


Puppy Pictures
Okay, the author, Elizabeth George Speare, is in the picture as well.

Check Out Those Abs
Here's one of the original book covers for the novel.

The Bear Takes Center Stage
On this cover, it's all about the bear.