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Call It Courage
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Call It Courage

3.71  ·  Rating details ·  9,939 Ratings  ·  748 Reviews
A boy tries to overcome his fear of the sea in this treasured classic and winner of the Newbery Medal.

Maftu was afraid of the sea. It had taken his mother when he was a baby, and it seemed to him that the sea gods sought vengeance at having been cheated of Mafatu. So, though he was the son of the Great Chief of Hikueru, a race of Polynesians who worshipped courage, and he
Paperback, 128 pages
Published April 30th 1990 by Aladdin (first published 1940)
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Maddie Hazel It is very mean! Uri is a adorable loyal dog!!!! Can YOU write a better book? Can you?!
Maddie Hazel No...! But snapping turtles sometimes harm chickens. So... no. Also, why would you ask a question like that?!

Community Reviews

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We are all enchanted by the tales of adventure in the South Sea islands, probably because most of us will only travel there in the pages of the books we read. They are a mystery to us, their history, their beauty, their people, and that fuels our imagination, that need for the ultimate adventure. This is a coming of age story set in the Polynesian Islands centuries ago, and it's the tale of a young boy who has something to prove to his father, his friends, but most of all to himself. It's a feel ...more
My 13 year-old son brought this book to me two days ago and said that it is one of his all time favorites. So I put it next to the computer to read when I finish "Toward the Gleam." He mentioned it again yesterday, so last night I took it with me to read at bedtime. He saw that I had it on my bedtime stack and picked it up and began telling me again how much he enjoyed this book. You could see the story play across his face as he held it almost reverently. So I put my novel away, and took the ti ...more
Shanna Gonzalez
Jun 26, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: children-08-12
Mafatu, the ten-year-old son of a Polynesian chieftan, has always feared the sea because in his toddlerhood he and his mother were swept away by a storm in which his mother lost her life. As he approaches the edge of manhood, his fear prevents him from winning a place in his community. Realizing their indifference to him, he sets out to sea alone in his canoe, taking only his dog and a few tools. That night he is caught in a storm, in which he loses his paddle and all his tools, and he washes up ...more
Grace Kao
Jul 05, 2012 rated it it was ok
Shelves: middle-grade
I read this while reading middle-grade Newberry honor books for my student, and while this may have been good in the 1940s when it was published, the book definitely shows its age to modern readers. The entire book falls prey its the noble-savage action-adventure boys' serial tone, and Mafatu's struggle to gain courage does little to redeem it, as the struggle is quite easily overcome. There are also some parts where it became more difficult for me to suspend my disbelief (view spoiler) ...more
Jun 02, 2017 added it
This was a super good book, I couldn't put it down at times!
Sep 15, 2008 rated it it was ok
Shelves: newbery
Meh. This is pretty much everything I dislike about what I thought of as "boy" books when I was a kid. It's like something that'd be published in BOY'S LIFE (the Boy Scout magazine). Definitely not better than THE LONG WINTER, which won an Honor that year.
Oct 29, 2011 rated it it was ok
Shelves: fiction, newbery
This Newbery winner tells of the trials of Mafatu, a fifteen-year-old Polynesian boy, the son of a chief. Due to a tragedy that took his mother when he was a baby, Mafatu has a great distrust of the sea, so one day he takes a small boat and, accompanied by his dog, forces himself to face his fears. After a storm, he washes up on an island of cannibals. While building a shelter and another boat, he also faces predators and then the return of the cannibals.

This slim story is, unfortunately, rather
Aug 10, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Judy by: YLTO Monthly Reads
This children's classic does a wonderful job of portraying Polynesian island culture. I was disappointed in the illustrations since they are only blue and white and not the beautiful flamboyant colors of island life. The book itself took a little effort on my part to finish because it seemed unrealistic to me that a young boy who was almost an outcast of society because of his fear of water could all of sudden do an about-face, travel to another island, weather a storm and take care of himself. ...more
Regina Spiker
I haven't read Call It Courage, a juvenile Newbery Medal winner, in many a moon. A friend had returned it to the library and she left a note about how much she had enjoyed reading it as a child. So to refresh my memory - I reread it myself. This particular copy included the preserved original, beautiful blue and white illustrations.

Mafatu, 15 year old son of a Polynesian island chief, has had great loss in his life. His mother died when he was only three. Both had been at sea in their small cano
Dec 08, 2011 added it
The genre of the book is fiction.
Setting is the element because he doesn't stay at the same island, he goes to a foreign island and takes a spear, kills a boar,goes underwater to kill a shark and bring it back to his home island. All to prove he has courage.

i was not interested in this book because it was slow i never understood it,he had to go to many different places in order to murder creatures that could kill the boy, Mafatu to bring back to the island dead to prove to people that he is not
Apr 14, 2009 rated it it was amazing
– I give this book to all my nephews, my friend’s kids, and of course to my son as soon as I think they are ready for it. It was the book that created my love of reading.

It is a Polynesian fable told through the eyes of a fifteen year old boy trying to overcome his fears and win the respect of his family and tribe. Mafatu, due to the loss of his mother, is afraid of the sea. He sits on the shore making and mending fishing nets while the other boys go out fishing to feed their families. Determi
Feb 15, 2011 rated it it was ok
I remember absolutely LOVING this book as a kid - the adventure and the suspense of Mafatu's plight. The book did not hold up to my memories of it. I found Sperry's descriptions rather flat and unengaging this time round, and found it difficult to keep up with the rapid changes in Mafatu's courage.

Another thing that bothered me about the book was that the two main conflicts were at the beginning and the end (the storm, and the arrival of the eaters-of-men). Both can be argued as conflicts as re
A delightful adventure, and a most deserving winner of the Newbery Award. Ten-year-old Mafatu, a boy from a Polynesian Island tribe, doesn’t seem to measure up to the standards set for being a “man” in his tribe. Most troublesome at all is his fear of the water. How can he grow up to be a powerful, confident, courageous chief if he is afraid to paddle out to sea and go fishing with the other boys? A wonderful tale of overcoming challenges and reaching through barriers to achieve your goals. Ever ...more
Sep 19, 2008 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
i was glad when this book was over ... sad. it had some good and interesting parts, but then there was a lot of dragging going on. then - suddenly something would happen. the book just wasn't laid out very well. i don't think any of my students will read this book, let alone enjoy it. i could be wrong though.
Oct 01, 2008 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I was glad when this book was over sad , but true. it had some good and interesting parts, but then there was a lot of dragging going on. Then suddenly something would happen. Then some more dragging and then something would happen and so on! The book just wasn't laid out very well.
Kate Matson
Maftu was afraid of the sea. It had taken his mother when he was a baby, and it seemed to him that the sea gods sought vengeance at having been cheated of Mafatu. So, though he was the son of the Great Chief of Hikueru, a race of Polynesians who worshipped courage, and he was named Stout Heart, he feared and avoided tha sea, till everyone branded him a coward. When he could no longer bear their taunts and jibes, he determined to conquer that fear or be conquered-- so he went off in his c
May 31, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I missed this classic entirely. A student came looking for it in the library and I didn't have it. A mistake I quickly corrected! I knew of it, but confused it with Jean Craighead George's, My Side of the Mountain. Call it Courage has a mythic and bold storytelling tone; like gather around the fire and listen to this tale. Imagine being the child of a coach and being scared or even terrified to play a game? That's Mafatu. He's the son of a warrior and he's a scared boy: scared of the sea, scared ...more
Jan 10, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
"Call It Courage" was written several decades ago and to me is very primal because of the simplistic narrative it employs. I have read complaints from readers that it was simpleminded and that nothing happened between the beginning and the end. Obviously, I am generalizing what others have said.

As feebleminded as it may sound, the language is appropriate because it is near to the true voice of the character of Mafatu. However, I'm sure he wouldn't be speaking English, but that's beside the point
Mashfee Alam
Dec 14, 2015 rated it liked it
Armstrong Sperry did a great job on conveying a story in this book. It was quite inspirational and showed how to prove something, you must do it, however, this book was way too straight forward. It followed a simple tale of a boy trying to prove himself in a clan by taking a big risk. This makes the story less interesting and could've been much more expanded on into a more interesting story. The book also moved at a very fast pace which wasn't too good because the suspense didn't last very long ...more
Apr 22, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The best thing about this book (or at least tied for the best thing), in my view, is the breathtakingly expressive imagery that Armstrong Sperry SO creatively paints with throughout the story. It is like a literary fireworks show from beginning to end, as Armstrong Sperry takes the reader through the narrative and includes an awesome display of vocabulary and glittering superlative, to boot. His extraordinary use of language does for me the same thing that Holling C. Holling's illustrations acc ...more
Vanessa Maeda
Nov 19, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Main Characters: Mafatu, Uri, and Kivi
Setting: Pacific Islands
POV: narrator


Mafatu, the main character, is a young Polynesian boy who suffered the death of his mother very early in his life. Mafatu fears the sea due to his mothers death but throughout the book, Mafatu tries to overcome the tragedy and conquer his fear. He takes fate into his hands and decides to go out into the sea in search of courage and bravery that will ultimately help him become a warrior and in order to gain the res
Oct 18, 2014 rated it did not like it
Call it a (mercifully) short story about a kid who needs to be courageous, so he runs out and does a bunch of stuff that he was totally too scared to do but is somehow magically okay with all of a sudden, after maybe a sentence of "ooh wait I'm scared... nah, I'm okay!" I dunno, maybe you need to read it as a kid to really fall in love with it, but I found this book impossible to connect to. The main character's only personality trait was his cowardice, which as I mentioned wanders off for a lon ...more
Jul 29, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was my moms favorite book when she was young and so she told me to read it. I loved it. It's an amazing adventure story. It draws you in and you get lost in the context, the atmosphere, and the adventure. It's deffinitly one of those books that you never want to end.

It keeps you on the edge of your seat the entire time, and it makes you feel like you are there running for your life from bloodthirsty cannibals.

Not only is it a great adventure story but it's a leason of getting over your fear
Andy Lee
Feb 23, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: young-fiction
Call It Courage is a good book about a boy who faces his fears in the form of his peers, family, and nature.

The hero of the book lost his mother in a stormy wave out at sea and ever since has feared the sea as if it was wanting to take him as well.

His tribe mates make fun of him, his father is somewhat ashamed of him, and he his only friends are a dog and a bird he nursed as a baby.

When all boys in the tribe go out to the sea, Mafatu builds up the courage to join them. In going, he gets caught i
Logan Erdmann
Sep 30, 2012 rated it liked it
This book will entertaing and I would recommend it to students in high school that are looking for a shorter adventure book. The beginning really explains the reasons why the boy ,Mafatu, leaves his home island. It shows connections between the human and spiritual world with all the praises to different gods by the young boy. Mafatu's only friends are his dog and a pet bird that he nutured back to health. He feels shame in his village for being forced to do "womens work". This book also shows ho ...more
Jun 07, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Boy is ridiculed for his fear of the ocean (had killed his mother and almost him when he was little - but I guess you don't get a break just for that!). Boy sets out into the ocean on his own and somehow finds crazy courage to: survive an ocean journey, survive on an island alone, kill wild a pig, shark, and octopus, escape cannibals, survive an ocean journey home, . . . Kind of made finding the courage seem a little too easy.

I did use this book as inspiration in my own courage-seeking today - t
Deb (Readerbuzz) Nance
Jul 24, 2009 rated it really liked it
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 food and water, an octopus, and a lack of a ship to return home.

Oct 27, 2014 rated it liked it
My dad first read me Call it Courage when I was five, and when I found it on his bookshelf, I decided to read it again. It's a very easy book to read, but the story is enjoyable, and the descriptions are very detailed. The story is a little dated, because the book is 65 years old, but idea of a hero story is a timeless idea, and I think this book is too.
Jun 17, 2008 rated it it was amazing
This is my favorite survival book, it's in the same vein as Gary Paulsen's Hatchet, but shorter and packed with interesting details of early Polynesian culture. Sperry is a real master of the simile, it's a great and quick read.
This was enjoyable, if a little simplistic. It had very pretty writing and the illustrations (done by the author) were not half-bad either.
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Children's Books: The Medal Winner from 1941 - July 2015 - Call it Courage 19 54 May 04, 2017 05:07PM  
Courage 2 5 Feb 04, 2016 05:03PM  
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Author and illustrator, he won the Newbery Award in 1941 for Call It Courage.
More about Armstrong Sperry...