This adventure book by Armstrong Sperry is published by Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing and is written for kids 8 to 12. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.
Mafatu is a young boy living in the South Seas. As a toddler, he was shipwrecked with his mother during a hurricane. She died. Once he returns to his tribe, Mafatu fears the sea and his people label him as a coward. At age 12, Mafatu can no longer bear to live with the stigma. He sets out alone in a canoe to prove himself. On his journey, he battles the sea, a shark, an octopus and savages known as the eaters-of-men. He returns a hero, and his story is repeated for generations.
Tavana Nui is Mafatu's father and the chief of Hikueru. The text says he grew "silently grim" over the years as he heard the villagers talk of his son's cowardice. He is full of joy in the end when his son courageously returns. Mafatu's mother dies trying to save him in a hurricane. She grabs him just as the canoe overturns and saves his life. Mafatu also views the hated sea god, Moana, and the god of the fishermen, Maui, as authority figures. He believes Moana is after him because he wasn't able to claim Mafatu as a child. Mafatu thinks Maui is saving him from Moana's wrath.
Other Belief Systems
Mafatu believes in gods including Moana and Maui. He prays frequently and fervently to Maui for help on his adventure and attributes Maui with his salvation from Moana. The older villagers believe Mafatu's cowardly behavior is the fault of tapapau, a spirit who possesses children at birth. The savages (the eaters-of-men) have a marae, a sacred place, with an idol.
Mafatu battles a shark and savages.
Newbery Medal, 1941
If your children have read this book or someone has read it to them, consider these discussion topics:
- What would you do first if you were shipwrecked on an island?
- Have you ever been in a situation where others teased you because they didn't think you were brave enough or smart enough?
What did you do?
Did Mafatu care too much or too little about what others thought of him?
- Do you think Mafatu's decision to venture out on his own was brave or ignorant?
What would you have done in his place?
- What is contradictory about the meaning of Mafatu's name ("stout heart")?
- How would you treat Mafatu if you were a member of his tribe? Why?
- Do you think you could have survived the Mafatu's journey?
- Name a few people you consider brave.
What makes them brave?
- Describe a time when you felt brave.
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