History for Ages Eleven to Fifteen The Award-Winning Summer of the Bear
The Summer of the Bear targets the 8th-grade social studies curri-culum, but is appropriate for ages 11-15, for either social studies or reading arts. Teachers and parents will find that Summer makes the history come alive for their children. It is a story about modern teenagers, and the choices they face, while retracing the steps of their Euro-American and Native American forefathers. The book makes an excellent read-aloud for sixth- graders and an exciting read for any teen, who loves adventure and mystery. Summer of the Bear, the first volume in a series of historical fictions for young, received the Michigan State History Award for Literature for Children and Young Adults in 2007.
How to Teach This Book to your Child
If you are wondering how to present this book to your child so that she learns the facts she needs to know, it may help you have her put the following questions to the text. All of the historical facts are indexed in the back of the book. Remember, every child is going to wonder: why do we have to read this? What does it teach us? Why did the author write it? How do we know what the author meant by what she wrote? (Hint: the characters, images, symbols, extra-textual references, etc., are all at the service of the author’s purpose).
Purposes of the Book: Every book is written for a reason, and, as obvious as that may seem, your child needs to learn to recognize the purpose for which the book was written. Only then can she understand how every detail of the book points toward the author’s goals. This is also a great way to prepare her to write her own papers and books, be they fiction or nonfiction. Purpose is the most important organizational principle in writing. The first purpose of Summer of the Bear is to teach readers about the histories, economies, and customs of the both the Indians and the Canadian fur traders, the voyageurs, the coureurs de bois, the commis, and the big American fur trading companies. The boys in the story sing the voyageurs’ songs while they are paddling up the Pigeon River. Authentic music appears in the text. The reader learns a certain amount of French, which is translated in the text, and, again, at the back of the book. The reader also learns about Native American history, especially Ojibwe history, from pre-contact times to the present. Along with this, he acquires a number of Anishinaa-bemowin language) terms. Seeking to fulfill his core democratic value of liberty, the hero discovers the responsibilities that go hand-in-hand with freedom. The (Ojibwe
core democratic values are of paramount importance for the eighthgrade curriculum. Jean-Baptiste and Kevin discuss the difference between traditional or survival economies (like that of the Anishinabeg) and command economies (the European economy, which was geared to profit). (Pp.45-46) The teens in the story become involved with an Ojibwe bearwalker. In processing what happens to them, the boys discuss the California missions, the Esselen Indians, and how some bearwalkers can be good, while others are criminals. They talk about California because one of them, Brock, has read a mysterious, scary novel about Esselen bearwalkers. What kinds of bearwalkers do the boys themselves turn out to be? Finally, two of the boys visit Michilimackinac, Mill Creek, and Mackinac Island in Michigan, where they see an Algonquian lodge, the wealthy trader and peace-maker, Ezekiel Solomon’s house, and learn how Mill Creek was founded to supply lumber for the construction of the fort on Mackinac Island. Kevin, the narrator, tells his friend, Brock, who is a very minor expert on Vernor’s Ginger Ale, about Père Marquette. The second purpose of this book is to serve as a text for reading arts. It is a lively, adventure-packed, coming-of-age story about Kevin Murphy and his best friend, Brock Tomlinson. Kevin, the narrator, looks back on his 14th summer, the year that he became a responsible citizen.
The boys set out to spend the summer at the Tomlinson cabin in the Pigeon River Country State Forest, Michigan. The French Canadian teen next door, JeanBaptiste Vaillant, takes the boys on a canoe trip they will never forget. They become witnesses to a mysterious murder, committed by a bad bearwalker, and eventually encounter a real bear. Everything in the story tests their courage and their loyalty to each other, as well as the values that their parents and teachers have been trying to instill. In spite of themselves, they are inexorably pushed across the threshold from boyhood into the adult world. The third purpose of the book is to help youngsters learn solid values they will carry into adulthood. The main thrust of the story is unity in diversity: teamwork and the invaluable contribution each individual is able to make to the group. They must also learn to be considerate and wise, in addition to being courageous and unselfish. Both Kevin and Brock become “men” on this trip precisely because they eventually learn all of these lessons, including the virtue of protecting family honor by behaving in exemplary fashion. The Issues Raised in the Book, which You Can Discuss with Your Child: One of the very first issues raised in the book is the meaning of Core Democratic Values for kids. Do kids get any of these rights? Why?
Why not? When the Constitution tells us we’re FREE, does that mean we can do and say anything we want, or are there bounds to our liberty?
“And personal liberty,’ Miss Frolich droned on, “is the right to think, to act, and to be an individual without governmental control or protest . . .” What a joke. If I wanted to do something, my father would decide whether or not I could do it. If he could have controlled my mind, he would have. I guessed you got to enjoy all those freedoms Miss Frolich had been teaching us when you grew up and moved out of your parents’ house. This really ex citing plan I had hatched for that summer is a perfect example of what I mean. It was harmless, but it would allow me the freedom to be the real me. I doubted my father would go for it. (Pp.2-3) “That’s very nice. I mean you should have the freedom to be the person you were born to be,” my father yelled, “but what about me? I feed you, clothe you, put a roof over your head, and I love you. Don’t I have any rights? And what about your mother? Didn’t it ever occur to you that she might be worried? Having the right to liberty doesn’t mean you can do anything you want any time you want. The right to liberty brings with it tremendous responsibility. You have to think about other people. You have to think about what’s fair for them as well as for yourself.” (P.98)
Conservation and the Proper Uses of Wealth. Conservation and sharing for the Native American constituted a way of life, whereas the Euro-American wastes enormous quantities of natural resources and only gives for a tax write-off. He may worry about the obvious end of the world, but, when it comes to making money, he thinks only of the here and now. Native Americans always gave thanks for everything they took, and they took exactly what they needed from the Earth.
“Wild rice (mano’min) is said to be generous to those who ask permission from the spirits to take it. They must pick only as much as they need and no more. This is so that there will always be plenty for everybody.” (Pp.16-17) “We Anishinabeg are the original conservationists. The Creator gave us everything we needed.” “During the pre-contact period ‘the time before the Europeans came’,” JeanBaptiste interrupted, “they could get what they needed from their environment. They asked the spirits’ permission for everything they took; they never took any more than they needed. Why would they want something extra, when they had more than enough? It is their way to share with family and needy neighbors. Their way of showing wealth is to give it away, not to display possessions.” (Pp.44-45).
What is the Best Kind of Economy? Survival Economies Versus Economies Geared to Profit.
“. . . The Anishinabeg only wanted to survive. The Indians eventually made themselves trouble because they killed all their fur-bearing animals to satisfy European demands. Then the fur trade died. If they had preserved the animals, the way their customs taught them to do, they would never have run out of fur for warmth or meat to eat.” (P.45)
For the Indian, Nature Is Not Only Good, but It Is an Integral Part of the Creation. For the White Man, Nature is Evil and is Put at Man’s Disposal. He Therefore Destroys it, with Little Thought for the Future. In this novel, Kevin is fearful of the forest and hostile nature.
“That night I couldn’t sleep, worrying about what would happen when Brock’s father came up for the weekend, and we weren’t there. Then I worried about what would happen if we got lost or found a bear. What if we drowned?” (Pp.22-23)
His friend, Jean-Baptiste, angers a mother bear, which forces Kevin to kill it. Then Jean-Baptiste takes only the bear’s hide, leaving the meat to rot. By contrast, the Indian sees the bear as a positive force:
“Kuo-Haya,” he said to his boy. “I have come to take you home. The bears have taught me a lesson. I shall treat you as a father should treat his son.” Then he promised that he would always be kind to the bears, because they had taught the boy that we must always be kind to one another.” (P.52)
When Jean-Baptiste sees that Kevin and Brock are horrified at eating the muskrat he has just killed, he says,
“My Anishinabe Friend, Ed, taught me that one only kills what one needs to survive. One offers tobacco and asks the animal’s forgiveness so that he will lead more muskrat, or deer, or whatever it is, to one’s gun when one needs to eat. Then one buries his bones. You see, the Anishinabeg think that everything in creation is related. So one is related to this muskrat, to the tree, to the river, to everything.” (P.32)
When Kevin looks at nature, he sees death at every turn. By contrast, the Anishinabe boy, Mickie, sees nature as a protective force, as long as he treats
“My Ahsaymah, or Tobacco, in Anishinaa-bemowin, carries my thoughts to the Spirit World. It represents my sincerity. When I offer Tobacco to the spirits, they tell me the secrets of the Creation. The Water Spirits appreciate my respectfulness so they guide me safely across the rivers. I’m always able to find something to eat because the animals offer themselves to me when I’m hungry. The Tobacco shows them the truth of my intentions.” (P.36)
Disciplining Children. Both Kevin and Brock come from families where children are sternly disciplined. It is new for them to learn about Indian discipline:
“The Anishinabeg never beat or shout at their children,” Star said. “If the child is uncontrollable, they might threaten him with monsters that prey on disobedient children. But, for the most part, they speak calmly and clearly to the child who misbehaves.” “What do they say to him?” Brock asked. “They tell him a teaching story,” Star replied, “like the one you just heard” (P.52)
The Equality of Women.
Star’s father told us another story that night about Native American women. “Their roles varied widely from tribe to tribe,” he began, “but Indians have always loved and respected their woman. They were leaders and war chiefs in some nations. In all tribes, women are the ones who give and preserve life. Like any man, a woman’s first allegiance is to her family and her tribe. A good life means doing what you are supposed to do, rather than what you want to do.” (P.53)
And here are some terrific literary questions you can have your children put to the text. In the story, a real bear and a bearwalker appear. What is a bearwalker? What do bearwalkers and bears have to do with one another? The characters talk about the Bear Clan, real bears, and tell Indian tales about bears and bearwalkers. What is the meaning of the Bear as the central symbol of the novel? What kind of a bearwalker is Kevin? What is the Bear Clan? The adventure begins and ends with the bear. If you had to pick a geometric shape for the narrative, what would it be? What relationship does this narrative shape have to the content of the novel? (Hint: For traditional Native Americans, all things are round). What is the function of Flashback in the novel? Characters are really ideas. Some ideas are static – they never change. Some ideas grow. In a novel, the static ideas support or contrast to the ideas that grow. The characters/ideas are presented as people so that the reader can relate to them and be swept away with the flow of the novel. He has to care about the characters in order to learn the ideas they embody. There are four principal characters in this novel. Two of these characters are main characters and two are secondary. Which ones? Why? What is their function in the story? Of all the characters, which ones are flats (types that never change) and which ones are rounded (psychologically believable characters that grow)? How does the author accomplish this? How does Kevin change? How does Brock change? Do Jean-Baptiste or Mickie change? Do the Schickbahouk or the Bearwalker change? Does Crystal change?
How does the narrator (the one who tells the story), Kevin Murphy, feel about pretending to be someone he’s not with the opposite sex? What do you think the author feels about role-playing? How does the author get this across in the novel? How does the narrator feel about liberty? How does the author feel? How does the author get her feelings across in the novel? How does the author feel about discipline and raising children? How do you know that Star is speaking for the author in this instance? The function of a novel is to teach lessons or to raise fundamental questions, which cause the reader to think seriously about this or that issue. What are the lessons to be learned from Summer of the Bear? There are several different points of view presented about the status of women. How does Jean-Baptiste feel about them? Kevin? Star? The Native Americans? The author? Do you think Kevin was right to go off without sharing his plans with his parents? Do you think the boys were wise to solve the problem of the bearwalker by themselves, rather than reporting their suspicions to the police? Do you think Jean-Baptiste should marry Louise Beauparlant? Why? Why not? For the Native American, Nature is good. Every part of the creation is valuable, as valuable as man himself. Man may take only those things in Nature that he needs for his survival. He must never take more than he can use, and he must never waste what he does
take. What is the attitude of white people towards Nature? What is Kevin’s attitude? Jean-Baptiste’s, Mickie’s? Considering the shrinking natural resources of the world today, what attitude do you think would be a good one to adopt? Do you think Nature is evil? Harmful? Dangerous? Are you afraid of wild animals? Why do you feel the way you do?