Thursday, April 10, 2008

Armstrong Sperry

Call It Courage
by Armstrong Sperry
Recommended Age: 10+

The winner of the 1941 Newbery Medal is one of the shortest books to achieve that honor. It is a very simple, direct, and powerful story about a fifteen-year-old Polynesian boy facing his fears and proving his courage. Told by an author who specialized in sea adventures for young readers, it claims to relate a story that has been sung over the evening fires on the island of Hikueru for many, many centuries.

Mafatu is a chief’s son in a culture where a man is nothing if he is not brave. And nothing is exactly what Mafatu is turning out to be. Ever since a near-death experience at sea when he was three years old, the boy has had a terror of the sea. This is no small problem when you live on a small, flat island in the Pacific, with little to eat but what comes out of the sea. A disappointment to his father, and despised by all the young men of the island, Mafatu finally realizes that he has to go away to test his courage against the dangers of the ocean.

So Mafatu sails away in a frail canoe with his faithful dog Uri and the occasional company of an albatross. He confronts a storm at sea, shipwreck on a desert isle, dangerous animals on land and water, and many other perils in his quest to prove himself against Moana, the all-powerful ocean.

The story is partly a portrait of a fascinating way of life, partly an exciting adventure, and partly a touching study of a young man’s quest for self-respect. It is told in such a clean-cut way, with a hint of ritual to remind you that this story is sung over the evening fires, that I think you will remember it for a long time.

EDIT: For much more info on Sperry, Wiki him!

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