1956: Carry On, Mr. Bowditch (how to earn a college degree without ever going to school)

VERDICT: Treasure

Sally’s Rating: 3/5

Jean Lee Latham’s Carry On, Mr. Bowditch is an informative historical take on Nathaniel Bowditch, a math-loving sailor who published a game-changing navigational reference book. Based on a real eighteenth-century historical figure, this book offers readers an intelligent hero who must overcome hardship to contribute to an important time in maritime history.

Carry On, Mr. Bowditch is one of the better historical fiction offerings on the Newbery Medal Award list. The most compelling parts cover his indentured years in Salem, in which he is forced to give up his dreams of going to Harvard and becoming a scholar. Instead, he must serve as a bookkeeper for a ship chandlery for the duration of his teen years. It is during this time where he learns that he can use his keen mind to help himself and his new coworkers in his new profession.

He learns to rise above his hardships as he puts his love of mathematics and astronomy to good use when he begins to sail. His strength of character is encouraging to read about, as well as the lessons he learns along the way. I think children would find Nat a sympathetic hero and admire his ability to persevere and rise above his situation.

This book lost my interest in the second half when the plot gets inundated with sailing metaphors and off-putting jargon. While it’s intriguing to read about Nat’s contributions to maritime navigation, I felt the book got bogged down with all the language and lack of direct action.

It also began to feel repetitive whenever one of Nat’s family members kicked the bucket. By the end, I pretty much just expected one of his friends to die every chapter, because that is how frequently it happened. Thankfully, the book does not dwell for long on Nat’s angst and moves on from these parts fairly quickly, with only a paragraph or two covering these events.

I was pleasantly surprised by this book despite not caring for the subject matter. Overall, I would recommend Carry On, Mr. Bowditch to those who are looking for a historical fiction book that features an intellectual scholar as a hero.


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