Armstrong Sperry was born in New Haven CT, Nov. 7, 1897. His great grandfather Sereno Armstrong, and his grandfather, were sea captains, and their memory encouraged in Sperry a fascination with seafaring. He attended the Stamford Preparatory School and the Yale Art School, served in the Navy in World War I, and then went to New York City to work at the Art Students' League under George Bellows and Luis Mora, and also spent time studying in Paris. He was able to travel to the South Seas, according to his transcribed letters, in 1920-1921, and, according to his recorded speeches and photographs, also in 1925. He worked at commercial illustration for eight or ten years after that, and in 1933 began to write his first book.
As a child Sperry read Melville, Stevenson, London, and especially F. O'Brien's White Shadows in the South Seas, a book which gave him the desire to travel in the Pacific. His experiences of life in Bora Bora inspired his writing, particularly his best known book, Call It Courage, based on a native tale of several hundred years ago. The book won the Newbery Medal in 1941. Sperry's first book, One Day with Manu, 1933, began as a collection of forty or fifty illustrations, with captions, and grew slowly into a story. It was followed by books on Sumatra and Eskimo life, and then by All Sail Set, 1935, a history of the clipper ship Flying Cloud.
Sperry and his wife Margaret, a physician, moved to Hanover from New Canaan CT in 1942, and later to Thetford, where they had spent summers since 1937 in a house in Thetford Center. They had two children, Susan and John. Both the senior Sperrys were active in town affairs, especially in the Thetford Center Community Association, for which he designed the sign which became the logo for the Association. He died on April 26, 1976.
He wrote some twenty-five books for children, including, besides the above--mentioned, also:
Storm Canvas, which won the NY Herald Tribune Medal;
Rain Forest, winner of the Boys Club of America Medal in 1950;
One Day with Tuktu, an Eskimo Boy, One Day with Jambi in Sumatra, Wagons Westward, Little Eagle, Voyages of the Columbia, River of the West, The South Pacific, All About the North and South Poles, Thunder Country, Black Falcon, Story of the South Seas, All About the Jungle, Mafatu Stout Heart, The Voyages of Christopher Columbus, South of Cape Horn, Lost Lagoon, A Pacific Adventure, Bamboo, The Grass Tree, Frozen Fire, Great River, Wide Land: The Rio Grande Through History, Pacific Islands Speaking, Secret on the Congo, The Codfish Musket, The Story of Hiawatha.
He illustrated also a number of books by other authors, notably Stars to Steer By, by H. Follett
[NOTE from Margo: He wrote 29 books and illustrated 41 others.]
Box and Folder Inventory
Notebook 1. 1920-1921
AS's letters, in typewritten transcription, to family members, describing his travels to the South Seas in 1920 and 1921, beginning with departure on Oct. 20, 1920. [NOTE from Margo: These copies were typed and arranged by J. Hunter.]
- 11-20-20 Arrival in Tahiti
- 11-23/24-20 To Fantana Falls
- 12-13-20 To Moorea for two days
- 12-20/21-20 In Papeete
- 12-27-20 Left on the 25th for Bora Bora. Stop in Raiatea
- 1-3-21 About to leave for Bora Bora, from Raiatea
- 1-6-21 Account of his arrival.
- 1-10-21 His difficulties in trying to paint. Description of native dress.
- 2-10-21 His arrest for breaking curfew.
- 2-14-21 About cooking in Bora Bora
- Undated, incomplete: On doctoring the natives
- 3-15-21 Enroute to New Zealand
- 3-17-21 Arrives in Raratonga
- 4-3-21 In Auckland, where he is stuck for a month
- 4-5-21 Plans to sail to Sydney, then to Fiji.
- 5-2-21 En route to Fiji
- 5-4-21 In Lautoka, Fiji
- 5-5-21 In Suva, Fiji
- 5-8/9-21 Trip from Suva to the interior, with a friend. Describes native life
- 5-9-21 Up the Rewa River. Sees a dance performance.
- 5-10-2 1 Back to Suva
- 5-12-2 l Various adventures
Folder 1. Photos. largely unlabeled
- A photograph of the young AS, taken in Honolulu before his departure for the South Seas.
- 6 different views of a small ?girl [NOTE from Margo: Armstrong Sperry as a child]
- 1 of same child in a hat [NOTE from Margo: Armstrong Sperry as child]
- 1 group photo of family, with parents, two boys (perhaps one is AS) and a girl [NOTE from Margo: Sereno C. Sperry, Sr. & Nettie (Alling) Sperry with Sereno (Bud), Jr., Paul, and Armstrong.]
- 1 of the mother in a hammock [NOTE from Margo: Nettie (Alling) Sperry]
- 1 of AS holding a ship model
- 3 different views taken at a book signing with AS; the book is Rain Forest. The above portrait with ship model is featured in a poster beside him.
- 1 of AS seated at typewriter
- 1 of AS with guests, probably in Thetford Center [NOTE from Margo: More likely in Key West, FL]
A group of labeled photos clipped to a letter from E. Emory, dated 1975:
- Sperry's room in Papeete, Jan. 1925; paintings on walls
- View from Hotel du Port, Papeete, Moorea Island in the distance, Jan. 1925
- The Kaimiloa (sailing ship) at Papeete, Jan. 28, 1925
- Hawaiian petroglyph, a Christmas card from K. and M. Emory
- A. Sperry and Piuli, 1925, Papeete
- AS while painting, at Hotel du Port, Papeete, Jan. 1924
Folder 2. Items related to Newbery Medal. 1941
- Item in The Title Page, newsletter from MacMillan Co., N.Y. 41
- Flyer for Call It Courage
- Postcards to John and Susan Sperry from their grandmother, on the occasion of the award
- Card illustrating the two medals (Newbery, and Caldecott, awarded to Robert Lawson)
- Card for Mrs. AS, with ?flowers?
- Xeroxes: newspaper items in 1941 (Christian Science Monitor, New York Herald Tribune, Boston Transcript, etc.)
- Acceptance speech
- Program of the American Library Association, June 194 l, p. 17 reference to the dinner for the medalists
- Publishers' Weekly June 21, 194 l, p. 2461, account of medals; pp. 2462-2464, article on AS by Helen Follett
- Connecticut Progress, July 1941, p. 3 reference to AS and the medal.
Folder 3. 1941
- Letter from AS to Margaret Sperry, re radio broadcast given in California, no date.
Folder 2 correspondence relating to Newbery award. 1941
Letters of congratulation and arrangements:
- 5-5-41 Irene Smith of the ALA
- May, 1941 Doris S. Patee, MacMillan Co., children's book editor
- 5-12-41 Doris S. Patee
- 5-22-41 Beulah Folinsbee, The Horn Book Magazine
- 5-23-41 Doris S. Patee
- 5-26-41 Judith Waller, NBC re radio program, to Irene Smith, at Public Library, Brooklyn NY
- 5-28-41 Olga M. Peterson, ALA 5-29-41 Beulah Folinsbee, re his paper
- 6-2-41 Irene Smith, re radio broadcast
- ND (probably 6-19-41) Doris Patee, welcome
- Schedule of Award Meeting and Broadcast, June 20
- 6-20-41 Telegrams, from Sue and her guests, Anne, Harry Fodder, Paul and Renee, Vivian and Mac, Frances Jack
- Copy of the radio address, 2 pp.
Folder 3 1924-1970's Letters re books; fan letters unless otherwise stated
- 2-4-24 John Ellacott from Bora Bora, in French, answer to a letter asking about a house, evidently to stay in.
- 10-1-40 Helen Ferris, Jr. Literary Guild, on AS illustrations to Courage over the Andes
- 9-13-41 4 pp. typed. Sophie Eckman, teacher in Detroit, on the Newbery Medal book
- 10-29-41 Doris S. Patee, MacMillan Co., to Margaret Sperry, on AS' speech at Del Monte convention in Los Angeles
- 9-7-43 Charlene Rollins, Chicago Public Library, on Shuttered Windows (which he illustrated), re writing on Negroes, enclosing a clipping on a black Air Force veteran.
- 9-15-43 Lola D. Moore, West Hollywood, CA, on Lost Lagoon
- 5-12-44 Telegram, Irita van Doren, on Herald Tribune awarding prize for Storm Canvas
- 12-4-53 Louise Bonino, Random House, on book tour
- 12-4-53 Doris S. Patee, MachIillan, on book tour, and possible book on J.J. Astor
- 11-10-58 Memo, Elizabeth Morton, Winston Co., on using paragraph from Danger to Windward in St. Paul school exam
- 7-6-60, 7-18-60, 7-27-60 Nancy Larrick on Amazon in Rivers of the World series; 1-16-61 to 4-8-61, correspondence on question of AS rewriting Columbus for a younger audience; 1-16-61 Louise Bonino, Random House; 3-11-61 AS to L. Bonino, his refusal; 4-8-61 L. Bonino's answer; 3-?-61 copy of Anne Terry White's criticism, namely 4 pp., of the rewriting of Columbus, and ND copy of A.T. White's note to L. Bonino.
- 9-12-61 Edmond W. Barton, Instituto Chileno, Valparaiso, on Call It Courage etc.
- 3-18-64 Virginia Rettig, teacher in Emerson NJ
- 10-31-64 George P. Isbelle, So. Steel Co., San Antonio TX
- 3-29-65 Ruth Steinhauer, teacher, Columbus OH
- 4-11-66 Richard J. Walsh Jr., John Day Co., NY, on C. Sipprell's photo of AS, to be included in a book of her photos.
- 6-3-66 Katherine McMahon, librarian, Albuquerque, on Rio Grande
- 10-25-66 Sara W. Lundstein, on using Call It Courage for a public television program
- 1-9-67 Zula Norris Stanford, La Porte TX, on Call It Courage
- 4-4-67 Mavis Fortin, Wilder VT, teacher
- 5-1-67 Patricia Eckles, Hanover NH, librarian, on Great River Wide Land
- 5-10-67 Charles W. Furlong, Dartmouth College, on exhibition of AS works
- 6-1-67 Susan C. Hirschman, MacMillan Co., on review of Great River Wide Land
- 5-17-67 James Sykes, Dartmouth College, on the exhibit
- 8-16-67 Barbara M. Lilly, MacMillan, review of Great River Wide Land
- 5-17-67? Martin Cole on Hull Down for Action
- 12-3-67 same, on Call It Courage
- 1-18-68 June Buttrey, Wellington School, Salop, England, on Mafatu
- 4-29-68 Dewey W. Chambers, 2 pp., Stockton CA, re book proposal
- 5-12-68 June Buttrey, thanks for Call It Courage
- 8-2-68 Lynda Johnson Robb, Washington, on Call It Courage
- 10-4-68 Timothy Seldes, Hanover NH, on tape of Call It Courage
- 5-23-69 Fran Richmond, Hanover NH, on autograph
- 8-23-71 Karen Nelson, Minneapolis, on manuscript collection at University of Minnesota, asking to add AS' books
- 10-12-71 Donald V. Oster, on receipt of MSS for the U. Minn. Library: Great River Wide Land. and two unpublished: On Writing for Young People and Cacao, the Chocolate Tree
- ND receipt from Ralph H. Hopp, Director of Libraries, and K. Nelson, for Great River and Cacao MSS, and typescript of South of Cape Horn
- 1-19-72 Ed Kemp, University of Oregon, on preserving AS' literary files
- 5-31-72 AS response; his files already available
- 4-13-72 Dolores A. Burkhardt, Unionville CT, librarian
- 12-19-72 card, Virginia Haviland, DC, on Newbery
- 2-12-73 Susan C. Hirschman, MacMillan, on Call It Courage in paperback and Disney movie
- 3-8-73 Karen Clifton to MacMillan Co., teacher, Lakewood CO, needs AS address
- 8-20-73 Elsie A. Crocker
- 11-20-73 Joanne Nunley, Hazelwood MO, librarian
- 11-25-73 Selwyn Gamble, card and letter, Senatobia MS
- 12-18-73 Suzanne K. Roy, Lawrence KS, teacher
- 1-18-74 Mrs. McConnell and fourth grade children, Delhi NY, asking did Mafatu die?
- 2-4-74 Maria C. Fosselle, Newburgh NY, student
- 2-4-74 Ben Masselink, screenwriter for Disney film, 2 copies
- 3-11-74 Ben Masselink, thanks for copy of Call It Courage
- 2-16-74 Elizabeth Canterbury, Athens IL, librarian
- 2-21-74 Virginia T. Mealy, St. Louis MO, teacher
- 9-27-74 Constance Stephens, Hazelwood MO, librarian
- 9-20-74 Marian H. Weaver, California PA, state college, re Bicentennial Room display
- 7-6-76 Kingman Brewster, Yale, condolence letter to Margaret
- ND J. Neal Griffith, TX
- 5-8-? Dick Morin, Dartmouth College, personal
- ND Elizabeth Foreman Lewis, author, to Mr. Kent, on All Sail Set
- ND Mme Jens? Dennts, France, translator of Lost Lagoon
- ND advertisement notice from Edw. P. Judd Co. on One Day with Manu
Folder 4. Children's fan letters. early 1970's
- arranged alphabetically by states: A, C, D, G, H, I, K, N
Folder 5. Children's fan letters. early 1970's
- arranged alphabetically by states: O, P, S, T, U, V, W, Saigon, Canada
Folder 6. Further fan letters from children. 1975-1976
Folder 7. Reference book used by AS
- Mammals or the Pacific World. Macmillan Co., NT 1945
Envelope, 1941-1948. Items relating to book awards
- The Newbery Medal, 1941, with AS' name, in a case
- Miniature "chapbook" with AS' name engraved, dated June 20, 1941 [NOTE from Margo: This is a "Horn Book"; the date is the
date he was awarded the Newbery Medal.]
- Boys Clubs of America Junior Book Ward (for Rain Forest)
- Name tag for the convention of the ALA, 1941
- Place card holder inscribed with AS' name, 1948. [NOTE from Margo: This is really the stand for the BCA award]
This page last updated Friday, 04/03/09,
by Margo Burns,