Call It Courage


Call It Courage

Infobox Book
name = Call It Courage
title_orig =
translator =


image_caption = Dust jacket of 1st edition, 1st printing
author = Armstrong Sperry
illustrator = Armstrong Sperry
cover_artist =
country = United States
language = English
series =
genre = Children's novel
publisher = Macmillan
release_date = 1940
media_type = Print (Hardback & Paperback)
pages =
isbn = ISBN 0689862296
preceded_by =
followed_by =

"Call It Courage" (published as The Boy Who Was Afraid in the United Kingdom) is a book in English written and illustrated by Armstrong Sperry that won the Newbery Medal for excellence in American children's literature in 1941.

The book was originally published in 1940 and has had numerous printings since then, and has been translated into many languages, including Spanish, French, German, Dutch, Finnish, Swedish, Norwegian, Persian, Mandarin Chinese, Japanese, Samoan, Hindi, Turkish, Indonesian, Arabic, Hebrew, Urdu, and Braille.

Plot summary

"Call It Courage" is a coming of age story set in the Pacific Islands. It chronicles the journey of Mafatu, the son of the chief of Hikueru Island. Mafatu is afraid of the sea due to witnessing his mother drown as a young child, which makes him a shame to his father, and a coward among his tribe. One night Mafatu takes a dugout canoe and sets sail into the ocean without knowing where he will end up. He lands on a deserted island, which he discovers is deserted because cannibals visit it and make sacrifices there. It is on this island, with only his faithful dog and a friendly Albatross as companions, that he must survive and find a way to get home.

Major Scenes

"“He saw a series of wide stone terraces rising in a pyramid many feet high; on top of this pyramid a grotesque idol, hideously ugly, reared in the brilliant sunshine.” “It was an ancient idol, its contours softened with fungus and lichens, corroded by the rains of ages. The roots of convolvulus writhed about its base. No wind reached this hidden circle, and insects hummed in the hot air.”""A gleam of light betrayed the position of the spearhead. Finely ground, sharp-edged; a spear for food, a weapon against attack.""Mafatu wavered, undecided. Dare he take the spearhead? His hands felt damp and cold. In the distance, the spearhead winked at him like an evil eye. " [Adapted from the book "Call it Courage"]

This is a scene out of typical adventure stories. Yet it is different. There is a sharp contrast between the “grotesque idol, hideously ugly” and the “brilliant sunshine”. The contrast is further pronounced, “Contours softened with fungus and lichens, corroded by the rains of ages. The roots of convolvulus writhed about its base” gives a further eeriness about it.

The surroundings are exactly as one would imagine it. Hot, humid, stifling. Not a breeze stirs. A picture of tenacious balance, about to be broken by the decision of Mafatu, whether it be fight or flight.

Comment from the author

"I had been afraid that perhaps in "Call It Courage", the concept of spiritual courage might be too adult for children, but the reception of this book has reaffirmed a belief I have long held: that children have imagination enough to grasp any idea, and respond to it, if it is put to them honestly and without a patronizing pat on the head." [from "Acceptance Paper" by Armstrong Sperry, as appeared in Newbery Medal Books: 1922-1955, Bartha Mohoney Miller and Elinor Whitney Field, eds., Horn Book, Boston, 1955, p. 207]


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