Call It Courage

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Call It Courage
CallItCourage 1sted.jpg
Dust jacket of 1st edition, 1st printing
Author Armstrong Sperry
Illustrator Armstrong Sperry
Country United States
Language English
Genre Children's novel
Publisher Macmillan
Publication date
Media type Print (Hardback & Paperback)
Pages 116
ISBN 0-689-86229-6

Call It Courage (published as The Boy Who Was Afraid in the United Kingdom) is a 1940 children's novel written and illustrated by American author Armstrong Sperry. The novel won the Newbery Medal for excellence in American children's literature in 1941.

Plot summary[edit]

A short novel of 116 pages, it is about a boy who tries to overcome his fear of the sea.

Call It Courage is a story set in the Pacific Islands. It chronicles the journey of Mafatu, the son of the chief of Hikueru Island, Tavana Nui. Mafatu is afraid of the sea due to witnessing his mother die as a young child, which makes him a shame to his father, and referred to as a coward among his tribe. His stepbrothers would tease him. So one night Mafatu takes a dugout canoe and sets sail into the ocean without knowing where he will end up. He is caught in a storm and the canoe is lost. He lands on a deserted island and learns to hunt and fish for himself, along with his companions Uri, a yellow dog, and Kivi, an albatross.

Soon Mafatu finds a sacrificial altar built by cannibals from a neighboring island. Mafatu realizes his days on the island are numbered and he begins designing his escape by making a canoe. He gathers things he will need to survive a trip across the ocean. He finds a spear point on the terrible altar and uses it to hunt.

After a number of encounters with natural foes, including a shark, a wild boar and an octopus, all of which he successfully kills, he realizes he is gaining courage and learning to deal with the things that have frightened him. The cannibals return and he makes a daring escape from them, returning home at last to his village. He has become transformed by the experience into an imposing figure. His father does not recognize him at first, then proudly accepts him on his return. Mafatu's story is told throughout the ages to the future generations.

Comment from the author[edit]

"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."[1]


The book was originally published in 1940 and has had numerous printings since then, and has been translated into many languages, including:


The Wonderful World of Disney: Call it Courage
Also known as Disneyland: Call it Courage
Written by Benjamin Masselink (writer)
Armstrong Sperry (book)
Directed by Roy Edward Disney
Starring Evan Temarii
Narrated by Don Ho
Theme music composer Robert F. Brunner
Country of origin United States USA
Original language(s) English
Editor(s) Toby Brown
Running time 47 min.
Production company(s) Walt Disney Pictures
Original release 1 April 1973 (Season 19, Episode 20)

Call it Courage was filmed for television with a teleplay by Benjamin Masselink and a narration by Don Ho, and appeared on The Wonderful World of Disney for the first time on 1 April 1973 (Season 19, Episode 20).[2][3]


  • Don Ho as Narrator
  • luis Temarii as Mafatu


Filmed on location in 1972 on the Islands of Bora Bora and Tahiti using local actors speaking in their native dialect. It was directed by Roy Disney.

Other media[edit]

Musical play[edit]

A musical version of Call It Courage was performed between 9 April 2010 and 8 May 2010 by Zachary Scott Showstoppers. The music and lyrics for the production were by Adam Overett, and it was directed and choreographed by Adam Roberts. The Associate Director for the musical was Jaclyn Loewenstein.[4]


External links[edit]

Preceded by
Daniel Boone
Newbery Medal recipient
Succeeded by
The Matchlock Gun