Call It Courage by Armstrong Sperry is the 1940 Newbery Medal winner. Set in the Polynesian Islands before the traders and missionaries first came to the South Seas, it is the story of Mafatu who is known as The Boy Who Was Afraid. What was it that he was so afraid of? The ocean. In a culture where the ocean is the sustaining life force and where children are raised from infancy in its sight, it is simply unheard of to be scared of the ocean. Mafatu is teased relentlessly and he has no friends. The name Mafatu means Stout Heart and his wish is to live up to the proclamation “A brave name for a brave boy!” given from his father who is also the Great Chief. Mafatu has good reason to be scared of the ocean – at the age of three, his mother and himself were caught out in the ocean during a hurricane. While he survived, his mother did not.
Determined to prove his bravery, he decides to face his fear by confronting it directly. His journey will take him to a remote and desolated island where he must use his skill to find his way home. Will he return home not only a hero but also conquering the ocean itself?
Call it Courage is a survival story. A story of surviving on the ocean and alone on a deserted island using skill and a bit of luck to endure. It’s ultimately a story of Mafatu fighting against nature and also himself. I enjoyed the culture of the story. However, the book is very short and I’m afraid that if it was any longer I easily would have set it down. Luckily, I was able to read it in a single sitting. Younger readers may find themselves bored stiff but those who like more introspective stories may find it interesting. Not one of my favorite Newbery books but I’m thrilled to cross another one off of my list in my ongoing project to read them all.
Do you like reading survivor stories? Man vs. nature stories? Any favorites?
I read Call it Courage as part of Banned Books Week (which ended Friday). Although I found this book on more than one banned books list, my searches for exactly why came up empty. If I were to guess it would be because during a storm, Mafatu loses all of his clothes and he arrives on the island naked and it’s not until much later that he finally makes himself some new clothes. Although the book mentions his nudity, not once does Mafatu ever think about his nudity. It’s not even important except for the thought of what would it be like to try to survive without even a shirt on your back.
Links of interest: Armstrong Sperry resource website, more book blogger reviews.
Genre: Juvenile Fiction, approx ages 9-12.
Publisher: Simon Pulse. January 2008. (Originally published 1940 – the copy that I read published 1963 by Scholastic)
Paperback, 128 pages. ISBN 141695368X
Call It Courage is available from your favorite independent bookstore, Powell’s, and Amazon.