Monday, May 6, 2013

Carry On, Mr. Bowditch

by Jean Lee Latham
Boston : Houghton Mifflin, 1983 (originally published 1955).

Growing up in Salem in the young United States, Nathaniel Bowditch is fantastic at figures but indentured at a young age. Instead of fulfilling his dream to go to Harvard, he must "sail by ash breeze" and teach himself everything he wants to learn.

I first read this Newbery award-winning book for school, and I loved it enough to read it multiple times afterwards. I haven't read it since childhood, however, so it was interesting to reread with an adult's eyes. I loved Nat and his notebooks as he learned new things, and I can relate to his desire to have the answers be right. On this reread, I found that as an adult I understood the conversations between characters - especially what's left unsaid - much more fully, and I'm not just talking about the vague references to salty language! I also had not picked up on how the author takes pains to use short sentences and, if not explaining something outright in the narrative, has characters explain some things about sailing or navigation so that children readers would be able to follow along. This last fact is the main reason I wouldn't bother to reread this book again (except, perhaps, as a read-aloud to young children), but I will be looking for another biography to read on Nathaniel Bowditch.

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