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BOOK REVIEW: ‘Call It Courage’ by Armstrong Sperry

Carly Thompson with Call It Courage

Carly Thompson, a seventh-grade homeschool student, avid reader, and Herman Brown Free Library volunteer, recently fell in love with 'Call It Courage,' a chapter book following the life of a 15-year-old Polynesian boy attempting to conquer his fear of the ocean. Staff photo by Brigid Cooley

EDITOR’S NOTE: The Picayune Book Nook is published monthly either online at or in the pages of The Picayune Magazine. Book lovers of all ages are invited to send their reviews of no more than 250 words to Please include contact information. Reviewers must be Highland Lakes residents. 

“Call It Courage” 

Written by Armstrong Sperry 

Originally published by The Macmillan Co., 1940 

BOOK SUMMARY: This fictional chapter book explores the life of a young Polynesian boy living on the island of Hikueru, where the people value courage above all else. Determined to conquer his own fears, the boy sets off on a lone journey during which he navigates treacherous storms, a desert island, and self-doubt. 

Reviewed by Carly Thompson

Homeschool student and Herman Brown Free Library patron

My family and I recently read “Call it Courage,” a 1941 Newbery Honor Medal recipient written by Armstrong Sperry. The book follows Mafatu, a 15-year-old boy who struggles with his fear of the ocean after witnessing his mother drown, while he journeys to prove to himself and all those on Hikueru Island that he can be brave.

I experienced different emotions while reading this book. I was nervous for Mafatu whenever he chose to sail away with only his dog for company. I felt pity when Mafatu had to brave the blistering heat on his little canoe and excitement when he stole a knife from a man-eating tribe living on the island where he eventually lands. My favorite part, though, is when he gets the courage to kill a wild boar with nothing but a spear and then works long and hard to craft a necklace of the boar’s tusks that he then wears with pride.

While reading this book, I learned that what you think are your weaknesses can really be your strengths. In Mafatu’s perspective, he thought being scared of the ocean was a weakness when, actually, he learned much-needed life skills he may not have acquired if he was always in the water, such as building a shelter and making weapons. These skills proved helpful while he was alone on the island. 

By the end of the book, Mafatu comes back to his home, now able to stand tall with the name his father had given him, which means “Stout Heart.”

I believe both boys and girls of all ages would love this book.