Summary of "The Sign of the Beaver": Historical Fiction for Young Adults

Summary of "The Sign of the Beaver": Historical Fiction for Young Adults
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The Book

The Sign of the Beaver by Elizabeth George Speare is a historical fiction classic and winner of a Newbery Honor. Your child will enjoy listening to/reading the book because the book centers around two boys about the same age who are from different cultures. The main character learns survival skills from the Indian boy as they slowly form a trusting friendship. All without parents around!

If your child has homework related to this book, below is the Sign of the Beaver summary of each chapter. You can discuss the book with your child to see how the comprehension is going.

Chapters 1-12

Chapter 1:

Twelve-year-old Matt and his father built a small cabin on their newly purchased land in Maine. Father left Matt at the cabin to guard it and tend the crops while he went back to get Mother, a sister and a new baby in Massachusetts. Without a calendar, his father told Matt to make a notch every day on a stick. Seven notches per stick on seven sticks and then Matt’s family would be back at the cabin. Matt suddenly feels isolated and alone when Father leaves.

Chapter 2:

Matt was beginning to enjoy being along to do his chores without parental advice. He did some chinking—filling in the spaces between the logs with clay from the creek bank. He also tended the crops, chopped wood, killed something for dinner and cooked.

Chapter 3:

A bold stranger comes to the cabin. He eats lots of food and, while Matt is sleeping, the stranger steals Matt’s rifle. What will Matt use to get his dinner and for protection?

Chapter 4:

Matt forgets to bar the door securely and a bear gets into the cabin, wasting food and making a mess.

Chapter 5:

Hungry for something sweet, Matt climbs up a tree and breaks into a beehive. Angry stinging bees chase him to the creek. Swollen and poisoned by the stings he is carried back to his cabin and cared for by two Indians.

Chapter 6:

Old grandfather Indian makes a “treaty” with Matt. Matt will teach the Indian’s grandson, Attean, how to read in exchange for food from the Indians. Grandfather thinks that, with the onset of more white men, Attean will need to know how to read.

Chapter 7:

Matt has a problem. How will he teach Attean how to read? Attean is very sullen about learning to read when he arrives at the cabin. He’ll start with the ABC’s. Apple,bone,candle,door…

Chapter 8:

Matt grabs Attean’s attention by reading Robinson Crusoe Attean compares the white man’s way of doing things to the Indian’s way.

Chapter 9:

Matt asks Attean to show him how to trap a rabbit. Then, when reading Robinson Crusoe, Attean becomes upset when he hears that the native becomes a slave to Crusoe.

Chapter 10: Fish

Matt smooths over the idea that the native was a slave to Crusoe and seems to calm Attean. Attean takes Matt fishing the Indian way.

Chapter 11: Sign of the Beaver

Attean led Matt into a new part of the forest and showed him a beaver dam. He pointed to a marking on a tree—the sign of the beaver. Attean was part of the Beaver tribe. The Indian taught Matt how to make his way in the forest so he would not get lost.

Chapter 12: Bow and Arrow

Attean shows Matt how to make a bow and arrow.

Chapters 13-25

Chapter 13: By golly

Matt learns more about Indian ways when they find a foxed in an iron trap of the white man. Attean shows signs of learning from Matt, too, when he says, “Reckon so and by golly.”

Chapter 14: Noah

When Matt had finished reading Robinson Crusoe, he read adventurous stories from the Bible. Noah’s Ark was the first story and Attean knew a similar Indian story.

Chapter 15: Bear

The boys come face to face with a bear and together killed it.

Chapter 16: Celebration

Attean takes Matt to his village to celebrate killing the bear. Matt enjoyed food, dance and story telling. He slept there in a wigwam.


Chapter 17: Not Welcome

Matt learns that Attean’s grandmother hates all white people and Matt is not welcome in the village.

Chapter 18: Rescue

Matt wonders why his family has not come to the cabin. It has been ten weeks since Father left. He wanders in the woods and finds Attean’s dog caught in a white man’s trap. Unable to open the trap, Matt races to the Indian village and summons Attean’s sister to help him rescue the dog.

Chapter 19: Games

Attean’s grandmother welcomes Matt back to the Indian village. The boys play rough Indian games. Matt finds his way back to the cabin using what he learned from Attean.

Chapter 20: Manitou

Attean goes on a ritual journey to find his “Manitou” (spirit). It is a passing from youth to adult.

Chapter 21: Come with us

The Indians will be moving on from the village to hunt for moose. They invite Matt to come with them because they don’t want him to be alone. Matt refuses, though he is honored, and wants to wait for his family.

Chapter 22: Goodbye

The boys say good-bye. Attean leaves his dog with Matt and Matt gives Attean his father’s watch.

Chapter 23: Squaw work

Matt does many chores to pass the time. It is work that Attean would call “squaw’s work”. Matt keeps hoping that his family will arrive.

Chapter 24: Snow

Deep snow surrounds the cabin and Matt tries out the snowshoes that the Indians gave him. He feels safe and content in the cozy cabin.

Chapter 25: They’re home

Matt’s family arrives just before Christmas. Sickened by typhus the journey had been delayed but mother insisted on getting there before the holiday. The baby had died shortly after being born. Father was proud of all that Matt had accomplished.

Talk about it

To improve your understanding of the story, talk about the book with a parent, teacher or another student in your class. Check to see if there are problems with reading comprehension or if help is needed with new vocabulary. The Sign of the Beaver summary by chapters will assist you. Extend the experience by trying some survival skills mentioned in the book, pull out a map to point out the setting of the story or learn more about Indians and pioneers. The more you become involved, the better you will do in school. What did you think of the book?


  • Speare, Elizabeth George.The Sign of the Beaver. Dell Publishing, 1993.