Soon after the French and Indian War, thirteen-year-old Matt and his father leave their family in Massachusetts to build a cabin on their new land in Maine. When the cabin is finished and the crops planted, Matt’s father heads south to retrieve Matt’s mother and sister while Matt minds their new home.
At first all goes well. Matt develops a routine for chores and grows accustomed to the silence of the forest. Still, he cannot shake the feeling that he is being watched. When he is stung by an angry swarm of bees, Matt discovers that he has neighbors who have indeed been following his activities. An old Native American chief and his grandson, Attean, save Matt from the attack. Matt tries to express his gratitude by offering them his copy of Robinson Crusoe, prompting the old man to ask Matt to teach Attean to read. Despite their mutual resentment, the two boys become friends and swap roles as Attean shows Matt how to survive in the wilderness. As winter approaches, Matt begins to worry that his family has not arrived. When Attean’s grandfather offers to take Matt with the tribe as they move west, Matt realizes how much he has come to consider these people his own.
As in The Witch of Blackbird Pond and The Bronze Bow, Elizabeth George Speare weaves a history class into an entertaining children’s book. Matt’s experience with Native American customs serves naturally as a lesson to the reader. Matt grows in independence as well as in his understanding of a people that he had formerly mistrusted. Attean and his family also learn to respect Matt. An excellent account of pioneer life, this Newbery Honor winner demonstrates the importance of accepting people of other cultures.
A former teacher, Jennifer Minicus is a full-time wife and mother living in Ridgewood, NJ.