The Sign of the Beaver By Elizabeth George Speare – Fact in Fiction

Synopsis: Twelve-year-old Matt is left on his own in the Maine wilderness while his father leaves to bring the rest of the family to their new settlement. When he befriends Attean, an Indian chief’s grandson, he is invited to join the Beaver tribe and move north. Should Matt abandon his hopes of ever seeing his family again and go on to a new life?

For the Writer: Writers of historical fiction pay special attention to facts, from flora and fauna to customs and cauldrons. They have to know their stuff and Speare is proof in point.  After reading The Sign of the Beaver, Speare makes the reader feel as if she has been equipped with the skills to survive the wilderness.

The protagonist is a twelve year old boy, Matt. The antagonist is the wilderness and whatever she can hurl at Matt to bring him down. Although Speare has had experience in the New England countryside, the bulk of what she has written has come from research. This does not diminish her book in any way, but proves that research can create a sense of memoir rather than fiction, that the author has drawn from her own experience, that her characters are authentic. This is an encouragement to enter into the lives of others by any means possible. Read letters, anecdotes, interviews and whatever else we can get our minds around to help breathe authenticity into our work.

TSB is classic historical fiction, which provides an immersive lesson in how to weave fact into fiction.

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