But it’s a classic!

Call It Courage

Author:  Armstrong Sperry

I’ve always been a bit leery of dragging my own childhood favorites out and trying to push them on my students.  Partly because I worry that I may have a romanticized memory of the quality of certain titles.  Partly because I’ve seen other teachers rely heavily on the idea that “classic” equals good or better or best.  But some stories do endure–I’ve had lots of success with The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, for instance.  So I’ve been toying with the idea of occasionally looking back to try and find other titles from years gone by that might be worth promoting or utilizing in my classroom.

Call It Courage just isn’t going to be one of those titles.  I remember enjoying it as a kid, and it is not entirely a bad book.  The idea of a South Seas youth who, after tragedy strikes, is afraid of the sea and yet must conquer that fear, would still appeal.  The boy, Mafatu, ends up in a man vs. nature situation, gets chased by cannibals, but ultimately triumphs.  It was a good book in its day.

But it does not endure, in my opinion, as a middle grade adventure.  As I read it, my mind kept making comparisons to two other books that tell similar coming-of-age tales.  Written about 20 years after Call It Courage, My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George seems a much more compelling story with finer detail of how the main character survives on his own.  Even better, Hatchet by Gary Paulsen is highly engaging from the very first page and does a much better job of revealing the main character’s inner journey as the plot unfolds.  I’ve re-read all three of these books in the past couple of years, and I would never recommend Call It Courage above either of these similar titles.  I would promote it to a reader who has read the others and is looking for similar stories, though, and I expect it will always have a place in my classroom library.

Part of me mourns a little as I look back on this post–my inner 10-year-old, I suppose.   But hey… “they don’t make ’em like they used to” may apply to children’s literature as it often applies to, say, toasters or cars, just in reverse.  And I am definitely keen to continue rereading and exploring the uses of more “classics” with the hope it will not become a festival of sacred cow slaughter.


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