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This fall, we’re going to be embarking on an adventure: a collaborative literature project with South Paris Collaborative hinging on the book The Sign of the Beaver by Elizabeth George Speare. We’ll be reading the book as a whole class, making predictions, reporting back and forth between classes, and creating projects inspired by the story. Additionally, the book – which is based on a true story – is a wonderful link to our year-long work with primary source documents and regional history.

As I considered how we might explore the book in class, I sat down to read it (for the first time!) this summer. It’s one of those books that has been in my personal library for years but I’ve never actually read for myself. First, let me say I completely enjoyed the story. It is an exciting account of a boy who must learn to survive on his own in a wilderness setting while his father returns to civilization to gather the rest of the family. The book is well-written, captivating, and certainly worthy of the Newberry Honor it received in 1984. Reading The Sign of the Beaver made me think of other tales of young people surviving in the wilderness. I love how one book can lead to another in that way.

My next stop was Gary Paulsen’s Hatchet, a 1988 Newberry Honor book. Again, it’s a book I’ve owned for many years but have never actually read. Hatchet takes place in a more contemporary time frame and follows a boy named Brian who survives a plane crash in the Canadian wilderness and must learn the rules of rugged living. I enjoyed the book so much I continued on to read two companion stories Paulsen wrote: The River and Brian’s Winter. While I don’t particularly desire to crash land in a remote forest, I was certainly transported and enthralled by Brian’s story. Gary Paulsen wrote a fourth book, Brian’s Return, about ten years ago that I don’t own but look forward to reading. UPDATE: While visiting the Kennedy Media Center this week to check out Brian’s Return, I discovered that Gary Paulsen wrote a fifth book in the Brian Robeson saga: Brian’s Hunt (2003). I checked it out and look forward to reading it soon.

Finally, I decided to re-read Jean Craighead George’s 1960 Newberry Honor book, My Side of the Mountain. I remembered loving the story when I read it in elementary school, so I was interested in reconnecting with it – especially after having enjoyed the other similarly-themed stories. My Side of the Mountain is, like Hatchet, set in modern times but it’s quite different in that Sam Gribley, the protagonist, chooses to escape to the wilderness. His survival story is intentional and he’s had time to train himself and acquire some crucial tools and resources. UPDATE: Like Hatchet, there are companion books that revisit Sam’s story: On the Far Side of the Mountain (1991), Frightful’s Mountain (1999), Frightful’s Daughter (2002) and Frightful’s Daughter Meets the Baron Weasel (2007).

I love the process of discovery. It is so compelling to step from one element to the next and uncover new ideas and learning. All of these books are stories of discovery just as much as they are stories of survival. I look forward to jumping into The Sign of the Beaver when school starts and work with students in Long Island to collaboratively construct understanding. The act of discussion is a powerful arena for deep and impacting learning.

To learn more about our literature collaboration with South Paris, take a look at the project wiki that Mrs. Parisi created: http://signofthebeaver.wikispaces.com/

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