Published in 1940, winner of the Newbery Award, this is the story of Mafatu, a boy living on the Pacific island of Hikueru among his Polynesian people. Mafatu was deeply scarred by the death of his mother when they were at sea together when he was a small child, and though he’d like to be brave and go out fishing with his friends, he can’t bring himself to go beyond the coral reef that surrounds their island. Mafatu is a disappointment to his father, and to himself, and treated poorly by the other boys. Finally he gets up the courage to face his fear, beginning a journey in a small outrigger canoe into the wide ocean to meet his fate accompanied only by his small dog Uri and an albatross he’s befriended, Kivi. Their voyage is perilous, through a strong storm, but they land at last on another island. This one is volcanic, with a high central cone. Mafatu finds ways to survive through skills he’s learned at home, but is troubled by a huge idol he finds that has been the site of human sacrifices by cannibals that live on some other island. Mafatu and his friends overcome many challenges, but the arrival of cannibals to the island is by far the most deadly.
Great read, this is one I’d never seen, recommended by my friend Hilary Walker Miller. Sperry’s biography is interesting, too. Today one might be skeptical of a white New England artist writing and drawing the story of a South Pacific native, but I found it worked well on every level. The digital edition I read did not include the art, but I was able to find many of the illustrations online. Recommended.