As I laze on my front porch in the sweltering humidity of a summer’s day in Virginia, I find myself wishing for the frigid waters of Lake Michigan where I spent most of my life. Then, in that meandering way thoughts have of wandering through, I find myself smiling over memories of my children’s lake experiences. Some were naturally cautious and took some coaxing to get comfortable in the water. One of my children was so fearful, I despaired that he would ever put his face in, let alone learn to swim. I suppose fear of water is natural, but other fears children have are curiously inexplicable.
Fears, in general, are common to us all. In fact, the most common command of Christ is, “Fear not.” He knew our weakness to harbor both valid and irrational fears.
But every parent knows that simply telling a child not to be afraid is an ineffective comfort in allaying their fears. If fear gets a tighter hold on them than can be shrugged off by our assurances, sometimes a good story about a character who overcomes fear is invaluable. Courage, I believe C. S. Lewis said, was not a virtue, but what was needed when virtue was put to the test. We all know that courageous individuals are the first ones to admit that they were scared to death when they performed some courageous act.
A book that literally is about a boy’s overcoming his fear of water, specifically, fear of the South Pacific Ocean surrounding his island world, Call It Courage, by Armstrong Sperry, is a short children’s book of about 100 pages that is packed with action, adventure, and tremendous inspiration. First published in 1940, the author had this to say after its successful reception by children and adults alike:
“I had been afraid that perhaps in Call It Courage, the concept of spiritual courage might be too adult for children, but the reception of this book has reaffirmed a belief I have long held: that children have imagination enough to grasp any idea, and respond to it, if it is put to them honestly and without a patronizing pat on the head.”
The reader immediately sympathizes with Mafatu’s terror of the ocean, as well as agonizes with him over its understandable cause and the peer pressure he experiences as his South Pacific community’s survival and customs are tied to the sea. Out of desperation, this young boy sets out to prove himself and faces real-life terrifying challenges in the attempt. Storms, sharks, and shipwreck are the result, but he finds strength and resources within himself he could not have imagined.
This tale is a perfect summer read-aloud for suspense, pleasure, and unforgettable lessons of attempting the impossible, which are satisfyingly rewarded, and the memory of which will carry you and your children through many a daunting trial in your own lives.