Call it Courage

CallitCourageNEWBERY MEDAL WINNER : 1941

Call It Courage

by Armstrong Sperry

Age: 10+

Interests: survival, boats, ocean, sea creatures, storms, Polynesia, islands

Macmillan: 1940

116 pages, 5 chapters

Also by this author: All Sail Set, Wagons Westward, John Paul Jones: The Pirate Patriot

Next: other wilderness survival tales – Swiss Family Robinson, Robinson Crusoe, Island of the Blue Dolphins, Julie of the Wolves, Hatchet

Mafatu is a ten-year-old Polynesian boy who has been afraid of the sea ever since his mother was killed in a storm. The sea is vital to the life of the tribe, and the other boys taunt him for being afraid. One day he sets out to prove his courage, paddling off in a canoe with his dog Uri. After a terrible storm tears his boat nearly to pieces, the boy drifts into the lagoon of another island, and sets to work building a shelter and crafting a new boat. He faces many frightening adventures, killing a wild boar, a shark, and a giant octopus. On the day of his intended departure for home, a savage tribe of cannibals lands on the island and he makes a narrow escape. He returns to his home covered in glory and his tribe still tells the tale of The Boy Who Was Afraid.

This is a very short book, simply told but full of drama. There are no unexpected twists or turns, it moves pretty directly from A to B, but as simple tales go, it is extremely effective. The basic lesson of facing your fears and displaying great courage is a good one, as is the lesson of resourcefulness, determination and the will to survive. The one cultural artifact of the times in which this book was written is the rather lurid portrayal of the tribe of cannibals, but they play a very small part in the overall tale.

This is a good pick for reluctant readers who like action but are intimidated by longer books.

(available at


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All writings posted here are © Kim Thompson, unless otherwise indicated. For all artwork on this site, copyright is retained by the artist.
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