Customer Review

0 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Self-reliance in a reverse-Robinson-Crusoe situation, July 3, 2012
This review is from: The Sign of the Beaver (Hardcover)
This is fairly short, which appeals to younger readers, and it is not too scary, and it has likable boy characters. And there's settlers and Indians. All of which adds up to an irresistable brew for most children.

The story is memorable, and it's a good stepping stone to other self-relaince novels (our favorite is "My Side of the Mountain," but there is also "the Matchlock Gun" ...and many others.

My Side of the Mountain (Puffin Modern Classics)
The Matchlock Gun

Well-written, of course. It won a Newbery in 1983, and you can see some Newbery-must pieces in the plot:

1) white people have to be rescued from their own folly
2) white people are not to be trusted (stealing a gun, killing Attean's parents)
3) native Americans are wholly skilled, decent, responsible, and noble, and wise
4) question, question, question your religious teachings, your parents' values, and the concept of property. Unless you are native American. Refer to #3.

Other than that, we're fine with this great story. It's for kids.
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Showing 1-10 of 11 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Oct 12, 2012 7:54:20 AM PDT
happymom says:
How horrid a review of a great book.

Posted on Oct 12, 2012 7:54:35 AM PDT
happymom says:
How horrid a review of a great book.

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 12, 2012 1:24:02 PM PDT
M. Heiss says:
Thank you for your comment.

Posted on Nov 23, 2012 7:13:15 AM PST
2seetheglobe says:
Your premise that the book portrays Native Americans in a positive light and white people as idiots/killers flies in the face of the longstanding criticism aimed at this novel. This book has fallen out of favor in many school districts who deem it a distorted and stereotypical portrayal of the Penobscot Indians--portraying them as blood-thirsty savages who speak in B-movie pidgin English. At the end of the novel they slink away forever, accepting defeat and allowing the white settlers to take control. That's hardly a "noble" portrayal! It is difficult to understand how an adult could read this book and come to these conclusions.

I've also searched in vain for one single sentence that supports your statement that this novel has anyone "question, question, question your religious teachings." It just doesn't happen in this story. There are four references to the bible in the cabin--two in which Matt lets us know he deems it valuable, another where he says he doesn't understand a particular passage about Adam, and a part where the two boys discuss a similar flood story from their religions. Attean also discusses the manhood ceremony in which the "spirit" comes to him. None of these references can even be remotely construed as having these characters question their religious teachings. It's an odd analysis, the kind you see from evangelical groups trying like crazy to ban books they don't like.

Likewise with your comment that the book has anyone questioning their parents' values. Matt has nothing but absolute respect for his parents, and throughout the book he is shown as a hardworking, fair, and dutiful son--all values his parents instilled in him. Attean is shown as a boy who unconditionally respects his grandparent caretakers.

The only element you mention that is actually in the book is questioning the concept of "owning" land/property. And thank goodness that it is in there. This is a crucial concept that is key to understanding the conflict between white settlers and Native Americans throughout history. It can't be taught enough.

I actually don't feel this is a "great story" as you deemed it. I find the plot predictable and generic, and the writing droll (especially that awful pidgin English). There are much better options in fiction for this subject matter and theme. But I hate to see a book mischaracterized, especially because of a reviewer's obvious biases.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 23, 2012 8:14:23 PM PST
M. Heiss says:

Thank you for your feedback. Having just finished reading this book with my family, I consider my self well qualified to comment on the themes of the book. The children found it an enjoyable story; I found it a typical Newbery offering.

I agree with you; there are certainly many more enjoyable and wholesome books for children availble. We try to read them all.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 23, 2012 11:11:17 PM PST
2seetheglobe says:
Can you help me understand which parts in the story lead you to believe that the characters are questioning their religious teachings and parents' values? I want to make sure I'm not overlooking something in the novel.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 3, 2012 11:14:17 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Dec 3, 2012 6:17:08 PM PST
M. Heiss says:
2seetheglobe, I'll do my best here.

There's a scene where Matt is thinking about how to teach the alphabet to Attean. He considers the way he learned the letters -- with primer verses. The one he remembers is about sinfulness or original sin and Matt is scornful and doubtful -- derisive? -- about that primer verse.

Over and over, you see Matt wondering whether white man's ways are important, when Indian ways are so dependable and clever. I'm thinking about the snares and the fishing hook, among other things.

A suspicion that Attean's views on property rights were more correct than Matt's father's views.

Being set free one more time by Indian ways -- the snowshoes.

The consistent message was that Indian ways were the true freedom and White ways led to disaster. White people had to be rescued from their folly by the more admirable Indians.

That's where I'm coming from.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 17, 2012 1:08:30 PM PST
2seetheglobe says:
This is the scene you refer to where Matt is deciding how to teach the alphabet to the Penobscot Indian:

"He had to learn the short verses printed beside each letter. A: In Adam's fall, We sinned all. That would hardly do. To be honest he wasn't sure to this day just what it meant. He would feel mighty silly trying to explain it to a heathen."

Not quite sure how that shows Matt being "scornful" or "derisive," or questioning his religious beliefs. In fact, if anything, it shows Matt dehumanizing the American Indian by calling him a savage. It's odd that you don't find that offensive!

The vast majority of criticisms about this book are that it stereotypes American Indians (just Google it and you'll see). There are multiple examples in the novel of this--calling them savages, portraying them as illiterate and less smart than the white settlers, showing them as sneaky and lazy, etc. There are actually resources online that teachers can use to identify the stereotypes in the novel so they can use it as an opportunity to teach students about the dangers of stereotyping and prejudice.

Certainly Attean helps Matt survive by showing him how to set snares and make a fish hook. But that has to do with the bonding of two unlikely youngsters who discover that they can be friends despite their differences. It's hard for me to imagine how one interprets that as a sign of American Indian superiority over the white settlers. Besides, Matt is shown as a skillful teacher, cook, gardener, pole fisherman, and builder too.

Even though I couldn't disagree more with your conclusions, let's be honest--the "white ways" (your words) DID lead to disaster. It's estimated that 70 to 90% of the Native American population was destroyed after the arrival of white settlers--most due to diseases the settlers brought. Native Americans were forced from the lands they had lived on for thousands of years and herded onto sub-par reservations. That's disaster in my book.

I have to admit, your comments reminded me very much of the scary GOP platform recently passed in Texas where they stated: "We oppose the teaching of higher order thinking skills, critical thinking skills and similar programs which focus on behavior modification and have the purpose of challenging the student's fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority."

I don't believe, as you do, that The Sign of the Beaver shows a boy questioning or challenging his parents or religious beliefs. But if it did, I certainly wouldn't view that as immoral. As a teacher I'm appalled at those who believe that questioning beliefs or ideas is subversive!

And that's where I'm coming from.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 17, 2012 1:59:58 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Dec 17, 2012 2:10:08 PM PST
M. Heiss says:
Thanks for your comment. The best thing about literature is people can bring their own perspectives to it. Quo erat demonstratum.

I'm not much for following the pack of Google commenters when it comes to children's books. Too much Teacher Groupthink tends to lead to disaster, such as 70% to 90% of American children being mal-educated.

I appreciate your perspectives. I applaud you for engaging in conversation with a parent who disagrees with you.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 17, 2012 9:45:15 PM PST
2seetheglobe says:
Just to be clear, I wasn't referring to "packs of Google commenters," but rather scholarly articles and reviews discussing the book's use of Native American stereotypes--all of which are available through search engines.

Your comment about "teacher groupthink" and your crazy (and false) claim about the majority of American students being "mal-educated" are telling, and now I completely understand the bias you bring into your reviews. I could be wrong, but my guess is that you are a homeschooler, ultra-conservative, and an evangelical Christian. Nothing wrong with that of course--unless you try to impose your beliefs on others. That's the REAL groupthink problem.

And seriously, you find it acceptable to denigrate teachers? And just days after the Newtown shooting? This conversation is over from my end.
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