Call It Courage (c.1)

by Armstrong Sperry

Paperback, 1990



Local notes

PB Spe (c.1)




Aladdin (1990), Edition: Reprint, Paperback, 128 pages


Relates how Mafatu, a young Polynesian boy whose name means Stout Heart, overcomes his terrible fear of the sea and proves his courage to himself and his people.


Newbery Medal (Medal Winner — 1941)


Original publication date


Physical description

128 p.; 5.12 inches

User reviews

LibraryThing member mellias
"Call It Courage" by Armstrong Sperry follows the story of Mufatu, a Hawaiian boy who is afraid of the water. In this story, the reader gets insight into islander culture and how important the Sea is to their survival. To be afraid of the water is unacceptable and Mufatu does not fit in with the
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other boys on the island. One day, Mufatu grows tired of their jokes and leaves the island to conquer the Sea. He gets caught in a storm, loses his food, and takes refuge in a nearby island. There, he has to fend for himself and survive using his own knowledge and cleverness. He struggles against the elements and spirits on the island before returning home a hero.

This book would be a great read aloud book throughout the entire unit as it includes a foundation for all the attributes Hawaiian folklore entails. There's good versus evil, pride, survival, cleverness, and a focus on the elements.
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LibraryThing member eburkham
Mafatu is a young boy whose mother died at sea when he was a toddler while saving him during a hurricane. Mafatu is deeply afraid of the ocean as he grows older the fear does not subside. Even though his father is the Chief and Mafatu’s name means brave heart other tribesmen heckle him for being
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afraid and without courage. Mafatu decides he is going to concur his fears and make his father proud of him. He leaves his island of Hikueru and gets caught in a hurricane. He eventually makes it to an unoccupied island. Mafatu gets to work making a shelter, canoe, and knives. He catches fish, kills a shark, wild pig, and an octopus while at the island. He discovers that there is an idol on the island that the man-eaters come and worship every so often. On his last night on the island he is awakened by a drumming. He realizes it is the men-eaters and they try to capture him. He narrowly escapes back out to see and heads home to the island of Hikueru in hopes of making his father and tribesmen proud of him. He wants them all to know that he is no longer without courage.

This story is all about conflict and perseverance. Many times throughout life we encounter struggles against nature, others, and ourselves. I love the way this book is encouraging you to keep on trying and like Mafatu you can over come.

I would have my students discuss different ways Mafatu helped himself to survive. I would ask a person in the community to come into the classroom and show the students different ways they could help themselves in nature.

I would have my students divide a poster board in to halves. On one half I would have my students draw pictures of items they may come across in nature that could be harmful to them. On the other half I would ask them to draw pictures of items they could use to help them to survive in nature.
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LibraryThing member ThorneStaff
When I was in elementary school, a librarian did a book talk on Call it Courage, and after all these years I finally picked it up and read it.

It is a compelling read about a boy afraid of the sea, and his efforts to conquer the fear and make his village -- and his father -- proud. So he sets off on
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a perilous adventure to prove himself, along with his dog and, occasionally, an albatross.

Call it Courage is a Newberry award winner, and it is easy to see why it was chosen. The writing is concise, and immediately captured my attention. I had to finish it in one sitting to find out what happened to Mafatu (the protagonist) and his companions.

Survival stories have often been popular choices for boys and girls alike, and reading Call it Courage has reminded me of other survival stories I have read throughout the years: Island of the Blue Dolphins, Hatchet, and My Side of the Mountain immediately come to mind. These stories demonstrate courage and resourcefulness, and it is fun to read them from the safety of one's home, with ample food, water, and safety!
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LibraryThing member goodnightmoon
This book was so quick and enjoyable - exactly what an adventure story should be. The action was paced just right and the descriptions were clear. I'm amazed how well this has stood the test of time - kids today could easily read this and love it. The only thing that was missing for me was a
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takeaway message or thought - a theme.
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LibraryThing member debnance
Mafatu is afraid. His mother died in the sea and now he fears it. All his people know of his fear. His father is saddened by his fear.At last, Mafatu decides to face his fears. He sails off into the sea and ends up on a remote island. He must confront sharks, dangerous man-eating people, lack of
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food and water, an octopus, and a lack of a ship to return home.
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LibraryThing member tjsjohanna
I particularly enjoyed reading this because my parents spent part of their teenage years in Tonga and Hawaii. I grew up hearing stories of their adventures and seeing examples of the various handicrafts my grandparents had brought home from their stay. This short telling of a Hikueru legend is
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appealing to all those of us who have struggled with fear and who have desired to be brave. In addition, the descriptions of how Mafatu survives his adventures are exciting and interesting.
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LibraryThing member krissa
I enjoyed this one. I always think it is hard to pull off a story where there is only one character, but Sperry does this very well. There is lots of outer (as well as inner) conflict to keep the story going. There was a consistent ‘what happens next?’ feel to it that kept it going. As a
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younger person I would have wondered if he was going to make it, and that would have kept me reading on. As an adult, you know how it has to end, so you lose a bit of that element. Oddly, I kept trying to relate it to Steinbeck’s The Pearl in my mind. All in all, a quick enjoyable read. But one I am glad I read as an adult, not sure if I would have understood the ‘layers’ when I was younger.
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LibraryThing member msbunk
This book was about a boy on a native island who lost his mother when they were sailing in the ocean. The sea god guided them to the reef and the boat turned over and his mother saved him, but she ended up dying. He never went out to sea again and everyone on the island called him a coward for it.
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He decided to set out to sea to prove everyone wrong. He ended up going to another island. He was able to use his survival skills to survive on the new island. He made a knife from the bones of a whale. He killed a shark, an octupus, and a wild boar. He made it several weeks with no contact with other people on the island. He did discover an idol when he was exploring the island. He made a canoe so he could start home and tell everyone about his adventures and then they would not call him a coward anymore. On the day he finished his canoe, some people came to the island and found him. They started after him. He jumped in his canoe and started home. The islanders were getting closer and closer to him, but he was able to escape them. When he arrived to his home island, he was so weak from not having food or water. When he arrived, he got out of the canoe and started to tell everyone what all he did. The other people saw the tusks of the wild boar and the knife he made from whale bone. When he started to speak, he collapsed and died. The villagers tell his story for hundreds of years after his death.
I liked reading this book. It kept me on edge and I felt like I was right there with him. It was an easy read and very enjoyable. I was mad at the end of the book when it just ended with the boy dying and not being able to tell his family and friends about his adventures. All in all it was a really good book to read.
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LibraryThing member BooksRead2008
The son of the chief of a small South Sea island is ridiculed because of his fear of the sea, due to his childhood experience in a storm, when his mother sacrificed her life to save his. Setting off on his own, he is shipwrecked far from home, but manages to overcome his fears and perseveres
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through many difficulties and makes his way back home. **
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LibraryThing member KatherineC032
Call it courage is a book about a boy made Mafatu who was afraid of the sea because when he was three,he almost drowned,and killed his mother. He was always call 'Mafatu:The boy who was afraid.' And his father was ashamed of him. So,Mafatu set off with his dog,Uri,and his bird,Kivi. They went to a
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island that he thought was deserted. He lived there for many weeks. When Mafatu finally got away,he returned home with his wild pig tusk necklace and knife and returned home. His father was no longer ashamed of him and Mafatu was never again called Mafatu:The Boy Who Was Afraid. Instead he was called Mafatu:Stout Heart.
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LibraryThing member queenoftheshelf
Mafatu is afraid of the ocean, which is problematic considering he lives on an unnamed Polynesian island. Even more problematic is the fact that he is the son of the chief and his name means "Stout Heart". The time is coming when he should be learning to fish in open water, but his fear gets the
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better of him. One day, after hearing his friends mocking him in secret, he decides to prove them wrong, setting out alone on the open ocean, where he is thrashed by a great storm and shipwrecked on an island that may be inhabited by cannibals. Can Mafatu fend for himself and prove everyone wrong?

The greatest advantage of Call it Courage, by Armstrong Sperry, is that it is a fascinating peek into Polynesian life. This is also the greatest disadvantage, when we are left wondering what certain words mean, or are unable to imagine what certain activities are without any frame of reference. The writing is somewhat lyrical at times, making ample use of metaphors. Students in Grade 6 and above, who are not quite ready for My Side of the Mountain or Hatchet, will definitely enjoy this short jaunt.
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LibraryThing member The_Hibernator
Mafatu is afraid of the ocean because he almost drowned when he was a boy. But in his culture, fear is scorned and laughed at. Mafatu feels that he must redeem his good name and prove that he is not afraid anymore. He climbs in a boat and goes on a voyage, but he soon finds himself shipwrecked on
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an apparently-deserted island. There, he keeps himself alive by making all of his own tools, weapons, and a new canoe. He battles a tiger shark, an octopus, and a boar. He defies the cannibals when they return to their island. But will he be able to return home? This was a cute book, and I enjoyed the adventure - though it's very short and all the adventure is packed in at a very unrealistic pace. Regardless, I really enjoyed the couple of hours I spent with it. I think a young reader might find this book fun. It's appropriate for someone reading at maybe the 3rd grade level.
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LibraryThing member samuelsaiz
I remember reading this book when I was younger. From what I remember this book is about a boy who is afraid of the sea because he almost drowned when he was younger. The sad thing is that he also lost his mother when almost drowned. After that he became fearful of the water and scared to
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enter it again. His village starts referring to him as a coward. He leaves and goes to an island to get away from all the comments. While at the island he has to do everything for himself including finding food. He eventually returns back to his village as a hero. After that he is never called a coward anymore.
I would use this book to teach the kids about being able to overcome their fears. I would teach them that they should never give up and accept the fact that you have been scared of something before. Even if you fail, you must get up and try again. I think it could be used to teach the kids about other cultures also.
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LibraryThing member mirrani
Call it Courage is a book that was required reading when I was growing up and I recently picked up the book again, just so that I could relive it as an adult. I feel like this book does well in that area and that people who explored the world again when they were older, as I did, might find even
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more in it than they did when they were younger. The writing involving the Polynesian culture greatly helps to understand the mentality around fear within a culture that is less "modern" than our own and I found that really very refreshing when I read it this time.

Typically you see a very short book about a single character and you think to yourself that there isn't any way the story can be interesting or entertaining, especially to an adult, but this story has a satisfying balance between outer, physical battles necessary to move the plot forward, and inner, emotional battles within the character Mafatu himself, that move his character forward. As an adult, with life experience behind you, you might find some parts predictable, but as a child you will most likely devour each page, wondering what happens next.
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LibraryThing member ResAliens
A Newbery winner, this slim historical children's fiction was written in 1940. And while the story holds up, it is a bit racist by today's standards (featuring a young Polynesian islander on the look out for those black, savage man-eaters!). More novella than novel, this simple coming-of-age story
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does offer a young reader plenty to imagine. It's a contemplative read for the student who loves to dive into the setting of a story of survival (a la Robinson Crusoe). That being said, I feel it lacks the action that is needed, sadly, to keep most media-bombarded youngsters turning the pages. The ending is a bit ambiguous allowing for a nice but not necessarily deep conversation with a parent or teacher. Recommended for the right kind of 4th through 6th grade student.
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LibraryThing member angela.knox
Mafatu was afraid of the sea because it had taken his mother when he was a baby. He believed the sea god, Moana, would take his life too if he entered the sea. Everyone in the island of Hikueru branded him a coward. Mafatu had only two friends, a dog named Uri and an albatross named Kivi.
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He decided one day that he was going to leave the island and face his fear. He wanted to make his father, the Great Chief of Hikueru, proud. So he left on his canoe, with his dog and albatross and entered the sea. He faced a store and days on a desert island. He found himself very resourceful beyond his own expectations. He made his own knife out of whale bone, which he used to kill an octopus. He also killed a wild boar and a hammerhead using a spear he found. He built his own canoe and escaped the eaters-of-men. He proved his courage and returned home to his island. His father was very proud of him.

Personal Reaction:
This story is a great read for 5th graders or above. I really enjoyed the story. The author has a great way of making you feel like you're in the story. It also teaches a great lesson of courage and believing in yourself.

Classroom Extension Ideas:
1. In the classroom, form a literature circle and discuss the book with the class as a group.
2. Have the students engage in creative writing and express their thoughts and feelings towards the story.
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LibraryThing member klburnside
The 1941 Newbery winner, this is the tale of a young Polynesian boy overcoming his fear of the sea. As a young boy, Mafatu sees his mother die in the ocean during a storm. This instills in him a great fear of the sea, making him an outcast in his society where high value is placed upon bravery, and
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even more so because he is the son of the chief. After years of ridicule, determined to prove his bravery, Mafatu sets out in his canoe, gets caught in a storm, and lands on a distant island, where he is forced to come to terms with his fears.

The story is full of adventure and creates a nice sense of place, but it wasn't one of my favorites.
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LibraryThing member Cheryl_in_CC_NV
Call it recklessness. All of a sudden, during storm season, the boy finally decides he's had enough of being cowardly, and makes off with someone's boat and a half dozen drinking nuts and his fishing spear. Naturally he doesn't even tie anything down and loses all in a storm. Fortunately he lands
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on a fertile island and has enough talent to make a living there, but he still doesn't take care of the new knife he's made.

Well, if you can get past all that nonsense, and accept the mysticism, and don't care about complexity or depth, it's a rousing adventure of survival and it teaches some stuff about Polynesia.

And it has some nice language, turns of phrase. And it has absolutely spectacular pictures. Maybe it should have won the Caldecott, instead of the Newbery. Especially in the edition I read.

The shark pictured is not the hammerhead of the text. ?
Reread for GR Children's books, July 2015. ?áHere's what I said there:

Instead, I'd focus on the aspects of it that point to universal myths of quests, courage, will to live, stuff like that. I think I'd also guide the students to explore the fear of the black savage eaters-of-men and of their tabu. After all, Mafatu doesn't actually know anything concrete about them - and people have always demonized the enemy, and still do.

Mafatu also had quite a bit of luck and some almost unbelievable talents and strength - I would also talk about legends, myths, and tall tales with the students.

Interestingly, though there are lots of teacher resources online, and this is about the fifth time I've been 'assigned' to read this, I've never gotten the impression that many folks actually enjoy reading it. Some adults find it interesting, but as I said, I hadn't actually remembered it, and the copy at my library looks unread.?á

I like the pictures the same way. They're interesting, easy on the eyes, impressive ... but not necessarily memorable or even enjoyable.?á
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LibraryThing member Calabrom2
This is a book I read to my students when we discuss people over coming their fears. The main character, Mafatu has a fear of the sea because it took his mother when he was younger. The book describes his journey as he overcomes his fear with the help of his dog Uri. Students really used their
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imagination to picture him on his journey. I really enjoyed this book!
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LibraryThing member VhartPowers
It's a good story of a young boy afraid of the ocean. But as he gets older, he is still afraid of it and in his tribe this is frowned upon. Finally he hears a friend tell what he thought everyone was thinking; that he does woman's work and he is a coward. His father is chief. How can he get courage
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and the respect of his father and tribe?
Though we liked this story, it just doesn't hold a candle to Paulsen books.
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LibraryThing member fuzzi
The tale of a young man who is considered a coward due to his fear of the ocean, and what happens when he faces it, alone.

I loved this story in my youth and enjoyed it again as an adult.
LibraryThing member bell7
Mafatu grows up on the Polynesian island of Hakaeru, where the people worship courage. The only problem, is he's a huge scaredy-cat of the ocean ever since he and his mother went out in a boat and she died in a storm while bringing him to safety. Sick of the jeers of the others, he runs off in a
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canoe determined to find his courage.

This slight novel is told as a fable and survival story. The noble savage and cannibals, the moralistic pat-me-on-the-head narrator were irritating to me as an adult, 21st-century reader, though I realize both were of its time (and, in fact, in portrayal of another culture a bit ahead of its time). I'm not a huge reader of survival narratives, and as an adult it was really clear to me that Mafatu really was brave, he just had to find it out for himself. So this was just an okay read for me.
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LibraryThing member jjmcgaffey
Very rich story. Interesting descriptions of making the materials of a Polynesian life - weapons, tools, canoe, cloth, fire... The story is very simple, and the end is pretty much obvious from the start - though I wasn't sure the dog would make it through. Nice, and interesting. I may want to
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reread it sometime - though it's a very thin book, wouldn't be hard to memorize even.
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LibraryThing member DaleAllenRaby
I read this one when it first came out as a child. It eventually led me to Jim Kjelgaard, Jack London and other writers of adventure stories. Call it Courage was probably the first story I read that sort of expanded my horizons beyond my world in NE Wisconsin of the 1960's & early 1970's. Even in
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2021, the story is not at all dated and I highly recommend it to any youngster looking to step outside of his comfort zone.
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LibraryThing member PatrickB5
It is about a indian boy who lives with a tribe on a island. He runs away his home town. He survives with his and then they finally go home. The boy is afraid of Moana, The sea god. This is a good Book!

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