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Armstrong Sperry [signature]

Recipient of the Newbery Medal, 1941

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These pages are dedicated to the life and work of Armstrong Wells Sperry, my maternal grandfather (b. Nov. 7, 1897, d. April 26, 1976), who received the American Library Association's John Newbery Medal [off-site link] in 1941 for the most distinguished American children's book published in 1940: Call It Courage.

These pages link to pages about nearly every individual book. I am planning to add information about foreign-language editions as I locate them (See the Dutch edition of Coconut!) and more about his early career as an illustrator.

Armstrong Wells Sperry (1897-1976), photograph circa 1941

About His Work & Reviews

Stories, Essays, Correspondence

Illustrations & Images

Biographical Information

NOTE: The following five biographical sketches below are copied verbatim from their sources. There are inaccuracies in the content which the page listed above corrects.


  • Coming soon! Instructions to make several string figures from Hikueru (where Mafatu was from), collected by Armstrong Sperry's good friend, ethnologist Kenneth P. Emory.
  • Order new copies of Call It Courage ($11.20), All Sail Set ($12.95) or Wagons Westward ($10.47) on-line at Amazon.com [off-site links]
  • More books you can order from Amazon.com!
  • NEW! Buy a mug decorated with the dustjackets from every book Armstrong Sperry wrote and illustrated! 11 oz. ceramic mug: $14, 15 oz. ceramic mug: $16, 16 oz. glass mug: $18 -- plus shipping (FREE shipping on orders over $50 through 8/25/02!) [off-site link]

Study Guides

More About Polynesia

Archives and Libraries

  • University of Minnesota Children's Literature Research Collection Finding Aid for original manuscripts and illustrations by Armstrong Sperry in the Kerlan Collection (1994)
  • In addition to original materials in the University of Minnesota's Children's Literature Research Collection mentioned above, the carbon typescript of Captain Cook Explores the South Seas (1955) is located at the deGrummond Children's Literature Collection at University of Southern Mississippi, a gift of Armstrong Sperry on June 25, 1969. An image of page 1 is available on-line, but with the logo of the University superimposed on it. [off-site link]
  • NEW! Thetford (VT) Historical Society [off-site link] - My grandmother donated a lot of memorabilia about my grandfather's career to the Thetford Historical Society in the 1970s. The inventory of the Sperry Papers reproduced here was prepared by M.H. Wiencke, April 19, 2001. Items from that collection, "Armstrong Sperry Papers, 1920-1976," which are already at this site or which I have digitzed from their collection are accessible through hyperlinks from the inventory page.
  • NEW! Dartmouth College, Baker Library has an entry for "Papers. 1942-1947," which includes the typescripts of two novels published by Macmillan, No Brighter Glory (New York, 1942), and The Rain Forest (New York, 1947), the latter with extensive ms. corrections. Gift of Armstrong Sperry. [off-site link]
  • NEW! Yale University [off-site link] has the following listing in their library's on-line card catalog:
    • Title: Modern Tahitian popular songs or ute / sung by Armstrong Sperry ; transcribed by Helen H. Roberts.
    • Published: New Haven : Institute of Human Relations, Yale University, 1932.
    • Location: MUDD, Stacks; Call Number: Vkg18
    • Location: MUSIC LIBRARY, SML; Call Number: Mu72 R54+

Influences, Contemporaries & Colleagues

  • South Sea Tales, by Jack LondonSouth Sea Tales, eight short stories by Jack London about the South Pacific, is in the public domain and available here in its entirety on-line [285K], courtesy of Project Gutenberg. Originally published in 1911 when Armstrong Sperry was 14, he states in his acceptance speech for the Newbery Medal that he had read London in his childhood. This is probably one of the books he read, which sparked his interest in exploring Polynesia for himself, and gave him his first glimpse of the terrible storm which hit Hikueru in 1903.

  • White Shadows in the South Seas, by Frederick O'BrienWhite Shadows in the South Seas by Frederick O'Brien is the book that Armstrong Sperry claims was his main spark to travel to Polynesia. The text, while in the public domain (remember: anything prior to 1923 is in the public domain), is apparently not available for a free download, but a copy of the book can be purchased on-line, and ebook version is also available for $4.99. [off-site links]

  • Robert Louis StevensonIn the South Seas by Robert Louis Stevenson (pictured right) recounts Stevenson's cruises on board the Casco and Equator in 1888 and 1889-90 is also in the public domain and available at this site in its entirety [579K], courtesy of Project Gutenberg. Armstrong Sperry states in his acceptance speech for the Newbery Medal that he had read Stevenson in his childhood. It is available in its entirety on-line at the above link. Originally published in a limited edition in London in 1890, it was serialized in The Sun (New York), and finally published in the U.S. by Scribner's in 1914 when Armstrong Sperry was 17. This is a book which I speculate influenced his interest in cannibals who inhabited the high islands of the Marquesas and Tuamotus, where Hikueru is located.

  • Wild Life Among the Pacific Islanders by E.H. LamontWild Life Among the Pacific Islanders by E. H. Lamont. Armstrong Sperry stated in a letter home to his parents in 1925 that he had read this book in preparation for his voyage on the Ka-imi-loa. Published in 1867, this is an account of Lamont's copra-trading voyage in 1852 to the Marquesas, the Tuamotus, Tahiti, Huahine, and Rarotonga, which included being marooned on Tongareva (Penrhyn) for a year as the first white resident of that atoll.

  • Wanderings Among South Sea Savages And in Borneo and the Philippines (1902) by H. Wilfred Walker -- again available here in its entirety [325K] courtesy of Project Gutenberg -- recounts the 20-year travels of a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, based on Walker's letters home. I have no indication that my grandfather either knew of or had read this book, but it is an interesting period piece about how the South Pacific was perceived by outsiders at the end of the nineteenth century.

Great Reading for Kids

The background pattern of this site is based on the woodcut print of the buckram covers of the first printings of Call lt Courage, inspired by Polynesian tapa cloth. The headers are based on the hand lettering in One Day with Manu, One Day with Jambi, and One Day with Tuktu.

This page last updated Sunday, 05/02/21, by Margo Burns, margo@ogram.org
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