Tuesday, August 3, 2010

1941 - Call it Courage

The book I am going to review next is a dear friend of mine. I know it well, through and through. I should. I have read it enough times. Bless Scholastic Book services with their eagerly anticipated flyers that arrived on our desks beginning in the 3rd grade. With prices for books starting at 15 cents, even a kid with a few dimes in the piggy bank could buy her own adventures.

Call it Courage sounded like a good bet, so I ordered it. I loved it. The language was rich and evocative, yet plain-spoken enough for a kid to understand. Through this book, I first heard “outrigger canoe” and figured out what that was. I first met the tiger shark, I read about cannibals, I felt the life of the ancient Polynesians.

Mafatu was a boy who lacked the thing most valued in his society—courage. He was afraid of the most important and prominent aspect of island life—the sea. No matter that he had good reason! The reader sympathizes with him, but there it is, and he’ll never be a respected member of his society unless he is able to face his fear and prove himself. And so he does, leaving the safety of his island, alone, to prove his courage to himself, or die trying. His moment of no return happens as he approaches the sea-race through the reef.

Behind him lay safety, security from the sea. What matter if they jeered? For a second he almost turned back. Then he heard Kana’s voice once more saying: "Mafatu is a coward.”

Every kid has fears; I was afraid of the dark outside. I don’t know if I was able to consciously use Mafatu’s example of being afraid inside, but doing what you have to do, and finding your courage in the process. But it was an inspiring story, making me feel brave along with him and feeling proud when he returns in glory.

Sometimes, something happens to the pure pleasure of a book when it is required reading in school, and each chapter and every meaningful detail is read aloud and discussed over several weeks. The lesson is learned, the theme is understood, but the excitement is dulled. Some of my children were assigned Call it Courage in this manner. That was good, but it was bad. They don’t especially care for it now. But I’m hoping in future years, they will return to it fondly.

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