Jean Lee Latham-Carry On, Mr Bowditch

Themes Explored: masculinity, apprenticeship, growing up, sailing, historical fiction, classic literature, children’s literature, biographical fiction, Newberry Medal Winner, America, navigation, hero, strength, ingenuity, perseverance

Synopsis: Nathaniel Bowditch grew up in a sailor’s world—Salem in the early days, when tall-masted ships from foreign ports crowded the wharves. Nat did not have the makings of a sailor; he was too small. Nat may have been slight of build, but no one guessed that he had the persistence and determination to master sea navigation in the days when men sailed only by “log, lead, and lookout.” Nat’s long hours of study and observation, collected in his famous work, The American Practical Navigator (also known as the “Sailors’ Bible”), stunned the sailing community and made him a New England hero. (Adapted from Goodreads)


Review: I have always harbored a dream of running away and sailing the world. Sadly, I suffer from seasickness. Growing up I loved to read adventure stories, especially ones focused on sailing and exploring faraway lands. Sailing always seemed like an exciting way to live. Carry on Mr Bowditch explores the birth of modern navigation through the eyes of the Nat Bowditch.

Nathaniel “Nat” Bowditch, grew up in a poor household as the younger son of a cooper, a maker of wooden barrels.

Nat loves school, especially mathematics, and dreams of attending Harvard University. Due to economic hardship, he quits school to make barrels with his father. He eventually ends up as an indentured servant to a ship’s chandler (a store specializing in supplies or equipment for ships). Determined to continue his education, he teaches himself Latin. After nine years, his indenture is complete and Nat goes to sea.

During his sailing adventure, Nat discovers that the navigational sources used by the ship’s crew contained extensive and dangerous errors. He decides to compile a new book of navigational information. This book, The American Practical Navigator, is still in use today. Eventually Nat becomes a captain himself. Thanks to his work on improving navigational understanding, Nat received an honorary Master of Arts degree from Harvard.

This book contains everything you want in a children’s story: action, adventure, perseverance, hardship, success, and an unflagging sense of purpose backed up with sheer determination. Nat wanted more out of life than making barrels or twisting rope. Since he needed an education to move up in the world, he used the resources available to educate himself.

Narrative wise, the book covers approximately twenty years in under three hundred pages. Themes like death, loss, romance, and love appear throughout the story but never become the focal point. The narrative focuses on a young man trying to improve his life and letting nothing or no one dissuade him from his path. If you are looking for a solid children’s book that teaches some American history in an enjoyable manner, check out Carry On Mr Bowditch. You will all want to sail off into the horizon after finishing this fabulous book.

Carry On Mr Bowditch, 1955, HMH Books for Young Readers, ISBN: 9780618250745

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