Laurinda’s Rating: 4/5
Carry on, Mr. Bowditch, the 1956 Newbery Medal Winner, is a charming rendition of the life of Nat Bowditch. The book begins when Nat is but a wee boy, growing up in Salem around the time of the American Revolution. Nat is extremely bright, particularly in the realm of mathematics. His schoolteacher and several community members recommend that he go to Harvard, but, due to family finances, is indentured to a ship chandler. Despite his disappointment, Nat quickly masters his duties and continues to learn about everything he can. While his one true love is mathematics, particularly as it relates to navigation, Nat also picks up several languages. Mastery of navigation and survey gain Nat a berth on a trading vessel. He proves his worth several times over, through his skill as a translator and navigator, but also as a teacher of the other sailors. Nat continues on his path, marrying two women who love and support his work on a new navigational almanac and set of charts. Through his work on these endeavours, Nat is granted an honorary degree from Harvard. He eventually gives up life at sea and settles down with his second wife.
The author does an amazing job subtly integrating emotion into the narrative. While it’s rarely explicitly depicted, the reader still gains a sense of what Nat feels with every loss (most of his family and many friends die at sea; his first wife dies of T.B. while he’s at sea) and how deeply his relationships with others affect him. Ms. Latham, the author, also presents a nuanced view of foreign relations and other cultures. In an entertaining incident, Nat chats with Frenchmen at Balboa who fleeced a captain who made much of his appreciation for the Republic. The overall plot arc takes Nat from a servant to successful navigator and sea captain, who made his own way in the world through hard-work (the ash breeze aka oars). His hard work and rational approach to life lead to innovations that others hadn’t previously considered. I finished this book with a smile on my face. It was very readable. I’d particularly recommend it to those with an interest in early American history, seafaring, and New England.