Armstrong Sperry’s Call It Courage is a well-crafted story that explores a boy’s journey to adulthood. This story is your traditional survival tale, following a young boy, his dog, and his albatross as he seeks to find the courage to face the tempestuous sea. Leaving his home in a self-imposed exile, he decides to try his fortunes on another island and must deal with the dangers that come with it.
The book’s greatest fault is that Mafatu is not the most riveting character. His defining trait – his lack of courage – is only matched by his compassion and loyalty to his animal companions. I did like the fact that the only reason he became brave was because he couldn’t let his dog down. While he can’t be courageous for himself, he could be fearless when others were relying on him. His acts of courage were not all that impressive, though – stealing a spear from an idol, killing a boar, shark, and octopus, and running away from the island man-eaters. Nevertheless, I felt the character’s journey was satisfying and the book accomplished its goal.
The author’s writing style feels fairly modern for an early 1940’s Newbery Medal winner. For much of the book the hero is fairly isolated, resulting in there not being much dialogue and a lot of action. Thankfully, the book escapes the pitfalls of other nature-focused stories and manages to not be overly descriptive. The prose and simple narrative structure made this book a fairly compelling tale of strength, courage and loyalty.
Call It Courage was a short, quick read that promoted a positive message of how we all must face adversity from time to time. Featuring a sympathetic and flawed hero, this book can still resonate with young readers today.