Kaya and the Beavers

Short story collection published in 2006; author Janet Shaw; illustrators Bill Farnsworth and Susan McAliley


One clear day in early winter, Kaya tells her brothers that she has a surprise to show them. She leads Wing Feather and Sparrow through the woods to a pond, in which lives a family of beavers. Kaya and the boys like to watch them swim about, preparing their home for winter just like their own family does. They're not the only ones watching: Bent Bow, an eight-year-old who's grown sullen and cruel since his parents were attacked and killed by an enemy tribe, starts throwing rocks at the beavers, scaring them into their lodge. Bent Bow recently killed a grouse during a hunt but left its body for the crows, wasting it. All the boys were switched by the Whip Woman for the disrespect he showed the animal, but he didn't seem to show any remorse. Kaya and her brothers are worried he'll harm the beavers. The next day the trio returns to the beaver lodge, and see no sign that Bent Bow has returned. However, a bear spies the beavers and attacks them. They're able to escape, and the bear doesn't smell or see Kaya, Wing Feather, and Sparrow in their hiding place. After it ambles off, Kaya sees that Bent Bow is back again. Cautiously, she tries to connect with him by exclaiming with relief that the beavers are safe, but Bent Bow counters darkly that his parents never had that chance and stalks away.

Kaya returns to the beaver pond the next day, happy that soon it will be cold enough that ice will protect the beavers from predators, safe in their lodge. But their dam is broken, and water is rushing out. If it gets too low, then the pond will freeze solid and the beavers won't be able to access their storage of food under the water. She sees human footprints near the break in the dam, and then sees Bent Bow. How could he have broken their dam, dooming them to starvation! She angrily reprimands him, but Bent Bow explains that he was trying to help by adding more logs to the dam. The beaver family reminds him of his own (his mother's wyakin was a beaver), and he was only angry that the beaver parents didn't trust him. When he tried to fortify the dam, he accidentally broke it. Kaya can seen that Bent Bow is being truthful, and shows him that the logs haven't washed too far away. They need to leave the rebuilding of the dam to the beavers, but they can bring the logs back to the pond. Working together all day, they help the beaver family restore the dam. It's nearly done when the sun starts to set, and Kaya says they need to go back to camp. Bent Bow wants to keep working, but Kaya says they will visit in the morning, and by then they'll see that the dam is good as new. Sensing a change in Bent Bow, Kaya thinks that he will be healing as well.

Looking Back

The historical section compares and contrasts beavers with the Nimíipuu lifestyle of the eighteenth century. Both used autumn as a time to store up extra food and reinforce their homes for winter, but while beavers are largely dormant during the cold months, the Nimíipuu kept busy mending supplies and making new ones. And of course, beavers didn't pass along cultural knowledge through stories or hold ceremonial rituals. But both had their ways of life threatened by settlers from Europe. Beaver pelts were highly prized, and the animals were hunted near extinction. Trapping limits were set, and the populations rebounded, although beavers switched from being mostly diurnal to mostly nocturnal in response to the hunting.


The twins refer to animals and birds as if birds aren't animals. They're only five though, and they meant to distinguish between land animals and birds. But lately I've been seeing people posting on the internet that insects and other arthropods aren't animals...presumably these people are older than five. Are insects supposed to be fungi or plants, then? Inanimate objects?

My dad will sometimes sarcastically ponder whether beavers have to file environmental impact statements before building dams. I see beavers swimming in the river across the street from me (and a couple times, otters!), but I've seen neither paperwork nor dams over there. Lots of felled trees, though.

Beavers are the second-largest extant rodent, the largest being the capybara. North American and European beavers are similar sizes. The porcupine is the next largest rodent.

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