Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Read Alouds--The Sign of the Beaver

Tonight we will finish our second read aloud from this year's curriculum list.  The Sign of the Beaver by Elizabeth George Speare has been a thoroughly enjoyable book.  It is the story of a thirteen-year-old boy who is left in the Maine wilderness after he and his father had built their house and begun to settle their land, while the father goes back to get his sister and mother.  While his father is away he meets an native boy named Attean.  Matt and Attean become friends and teach each other much.  Matt learns the most as Attean plays host to the forest and teaches Matt how to live in his country.  We have raced through this book because the boys have liked it almost as much as I have.  We have tried to get to bed earlier so that we can spend as much time with it as possible.

The book addresses many very interesting themes.  Published in 1983, it tries to paint a picture of the native people as knowing more about the country into which the white men were coming than the white men who came.  It also deals with the displacement of the native people because of over hunting.  Interestingly enough though, as I searched for more info on the book, native people are pretty critical of her handling of their culture.  She uses the word "squaw" a number of times, which I didn't know was seen as a derogatory term.  She also has the native people call themselves Indians, which apparently they wouldn't have done.

As with any picture of a culture written by someone outside of the culture, it appears that Speare has made some missteps.  I certainly appreciate that she has attempted though to address issues that need to be addressed.  The coming of the white man, in most ways, was no gift to the native cultures.  As we look at history it is important to be carefully critical.  As dominant cultures, we need to understand that mistakes were made.  It is less important to pass judgment on our predecessors than to work to not repeat their mistakes in our own time.


Sharon said...

I have not read it myself but I remember it being a favorite of my students. Keep up the good work with the read alouds. There's just no substitute for hearing the English language used well and a great story is a bonus.

Anonymous said...

Y'all have been busy reading. Davy and I just finished the Trumpet of the Swan and are now nearly done with The Mouse and the Motorcycle. We both liked the first one much better.
Love y'all.
Put something in the mail for y'all today.

Joe Foell said...

Our kids really enjoyed this book too. I enjoyed it so much, I went and read all four of the author's books. They were all enjoyable, but "The Bronze Bow" was the best.

Thanks for your book reviews. You inspire me to try writing a blog. My wife thinks I'd be great at it, but I have no idea how I would carve out the time. I can't use my usual '5 kids' excuse, because you've got that too.