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Book Review

This review was created by the editorial staff at Thriving Family magazine

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.

Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

Other Negative Elements


Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

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.

Christian Beliefs


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.

Authority Roles

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.


Mafatu battles a shark and savages.



Discussion Topics

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.

Additional Comments/Notes

Book reviews cover the content, themes and world-views of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. A book's inclusion does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.

You can request a review of a title you can't find at reviewrequests@family.org.

Episode Reviews



Readability Age Range

8 to 12


Armstrong Sperry






Record Label



Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing


On Video

Year Published



Newbery Medal, 1941


We hope this review was both interesting and useful. Please share it with family and friends who would benefit from it as well.

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