Homeschool Discoveries

Sharing a few things I've discovered along the way…

Book Discoveries this Week: Sign of the Beaver and The Matchlock Gun October 26, 2012

Filed under: Books,History — kirstenjoyhill @ 9:01 am
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For the past couple of years, most of our longer read-alouds have happened at bedtime, with just me and Miss M.  Tony reads picture books to the boys while I try and read a chapter or two to Miss M of our current book.  This year, I’m trying to incorporate Mr. E into a few more chapter book read-alouds.  What seems to be working so far is to start reading to the kids during a meal or snack.  If the book is engaging enough, Mr. E and Miss M will both be more than happy to keep listening even after the food is gone.  Mr. K will usually wander away…but he is only three and a half, so I don’t really expect a huge degree of interest in books with few pictures.  🙂

When I first started reading The Sign of the Beaver by Elizabeth George Speare, both Miss M and Mr. E begged for chapter after chapter of reading in the very fist sitting.  Our pace slowed down after that, but both of them really enjoyed this book.

In The Sign of the Beaver, 13 year old Matt and his father have traveled to Maine to get land and build a cabin in the late 1700’s.  With the cabin built, Matt’s father leaves to retrieve the rest of their family while Matt stays behind to guard the cabin.  While alone in the wilderness, Matt faces challenging circumstances — and also finds an unlikely friendship with an Indian boy named Attean.

Unlike many historical fiction novels set in early American history, this book portrays a really positive relationship between Native Americans and settlers — even if it is just one young settler in this story.  Attean has things to learn from Matt as Matt tries to teach him to read English.  But Matt seems to learn far more as he learns from Attean how to survive in the wilderness with limited supplies.

This might be my favorite read-aloud so far of this school year.  I think the kids might agree — it was one of those kind of books that make you a bit sad at the end that the story is already over.

I made a conscious decision to read The Sign of the Beaver to the kids before reading them The Matchlock Gun by Walter Edmonds. These two books take place in the same general time frame, but The Matchlock Gun is set in a time and place of armed conflict between settlers and Indians.  This short chapter book (or you could possibly call it a long picture book), tells the story of the Van Alstyne family near Albany, New York around 1757.  As Teunis Van Alstyne leaves to do his duty with the village militia, Edward and his mother and sister are left behind on the family farm to defend it against the possibility of attacking Indians.  What seems like a remote possibility at first becomes more and more real as the story progresses, to the point where Edward must truly use his Grandfather’s Matchlock gun than even his father has never fired.

The boys in particular seemed to enjoy the suspense and excitement of this story (Mr K even listened, thanks in part to lots of pictures and a bowl of popcorn!), while Miss M thought it was just “okay”.

This Newberry Award winner published in 1941 is not without controversy.  Many reviewers on Amazon labeled this book as racist — and I have to admit, I can kind of see why.  The illustrations are kind of “cartoonish” in a way — playing on the fears of what scared settlers probably saw in their minds’ eye as they imagined the possibility of being attacked by local Indians.  There is also one paragraph in particular that describes how Gertrude Van Alstyne saw the Indians coming through the woods , and describes them as looking less than human.  I will admit, I skipped this paragraph when reading out loud to the kids.

The Matchlock Gun is based on a true story that was handed down through the Van Alstyne  family.  You can imagine that as a story like this of frightening attack is told time and time again, the tone of the story would be of fear and the heroism of the boy who defended his family — not of the potential grievances the Native Americans had against the settlers, or of other nuances of the French and Indian wars.   So given that perspective, and the age of the book, I feel like I can forgive its potential offenses.   But, this is why I read this book to the kids after Sign of the Beaver — so we could discuss how different each boy’s experience was with the Native Americans and why.

I’m linking up with Read Aloud Thursday @ Hope is the Word!

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3 Responses to “Book Discoveries this Week: Sign of the Beaver and The Matchlock Gun”

  1. marymakesmusic Says:

    We loved both of these books (we did them in our Sonlight curriculum a couple of years ago). I remember being sad when Sign of the Beaver was over, too.

  2. Julie Says:

    Thanks for writing about Sign of the Beaver. We have this book and I haven’t read it to my son yet. It sounds like he would enjoy it.

  3. Thanks so much for sharing these titles, Kirsten. I haven’t read either one, though both are on my radar (of course). Sign of the Beaver might make a good indepent read for my eldest since she enjoys history so much.

    so glad you linked up this week!


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