Carry On, Mr. Bowditch

by Jean Lee Latham

Paperback, 2003


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J La



HMH Books for Young Readers (2003), Edition: 0, Paperback, 256 pages


A fictionalized biography of the mathematician and astronomer who realized his childhood desire to become a ship's captain and authored The American Practical Navigator.

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LibraryThing member ctpress
“Mathematics is nothing if it isn’t correct! Men’s lives depend on those figures!”

Nathaniel Bowditch utters these words almost in rage in this biography of his life. Nat is a nerd - a genius with numbers - and he revolutionized navigation in the late 18th century - eventually writing The
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American Practical Navigator - which became THE book for sailors and saved a lot of them from shipwreck.

It's historical fiction written for teenagers - but I found it utterly refreshing reading about this self taught mathematical wizard. Couldn't put the book down and read it mostly in one day.

His father couldn't afford to send him to Harvard - his big dream - so he's placed in indentured service as a bookkeeper for nine years. But nothing could stop Nat's thirst for knowledge. There's something immensely satisfying reading about Bowditch's drive and determination - and the thrill of excitement as he discovers language and science. A good friend gives him Newton's Principia Mathematica - but it's in Latin, so he studies latin to read it - same with a french book - it all eventually lead to his mission in life: Correcting the navigational tables, writing the book and teach sailors on board the ship so they themselves can find their way at sea.

His personal life is filled with both love and marriage but also tragedy when several people dear to him dies at an early stage of his life. The fact of life in a seatown as Salem in those days (also as war is raging)

As YA-historical fiction this is hard to top. It was awarded the Newbery Medal in 1956.
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LibraryThing member goodnightmoon
My biggest problem with this book was its lack of detail. Mom dies, then grandma dies, then 9 years pass. And apparently sailing on a ship is no big deal (compare to Slave Dancer!). I like the character of Nat, but no real insights here into period life. I need some emotion and some description to
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really get it, I guess!
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LibraryThing member hgcslibrary
The romance of old Salem, sailing ships, the adventures and legends of the sea, and the perseverance and integrity of a boy are skillfully combined.
LibraryThing member debnance
Nat has every reason to expect that he will be able to attend college and go on to a happy professional life. Then everything is taken away from him. His father has a tragedy at sea and is forced to leave his life as a captain and become a menial worker. His mother dies and his father takes his
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sorrows out in drink. Nat must then leave school and become an indentured servant. His dreams of school seem lost to him forever.Nat never succumbs to feeling sorry for himself or bitterness. Instead, he finds a way to use his workplace to better himself, learning everything he can about ships and navigation. He is able to take this new knowledge and teach others, becoming well known as a brilliant mathematician and navigator.The life of Nathaniel Bowditch is a wonderful story of finding good in bad and becoming all one can become.
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LibraryThing member hobbitprincess
At one time, I had planned to read all the Newbery Medal books, but I never finished. This one, however, is by an author from Buckhannon, WV, so I wanted to make sure I did at least read it. It's great! The novel tells the a fictionalized story of the life of Nathanial Bowditch, a famous early
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American who was a self-taught astronomer and navigator. I didn't know much about him before I read the book, but it motivated me to learn a little bit more. The story is good from an inspirational point of view too, because Nat never gave up, despite being indentured and suffering numerous setbacks. If there is a young person interested in history, this is a good book to send their way.
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LibraryThing member landism
This is a children's (somewhat fictionalized) biography of Nathaniel Bowditch, a mathematician who wrote a much more accurate edition of The American Practical Navigator. Nathaniel Bowditch's work was important for sailors who needed a reliable navigation system when they were far out at sea. Carry
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on, Mr. Bowditch does a nice job introducing children to an important and not-very-well-known American mathematician. Jean Lee Latham develops Nathaniel Bowditch's character very well and reading about Nat as a person makes him more interesting. It prompted me to research Nathaniel Bowditch after I finished the book. This book is not entirely historically accurate, but it is an excellent story about living in the late 18th/early 19th century. I would recommend this story for fifth-eighth graders because of some challenging prose later on in the story.
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LibraryThing member SeriousGrace
This was reminiscent of Laura Ingalls Wilder's account about growing up in the unorganized territories of the midwest in the Little House series; better known as historical fiction. I call it biographical with a little imagination thrown in. It covers the life of Nathanial Bowditch, navigator
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extraordinaire. While the details of his childhood and subsequent personal adult years are somewhat abbreviated for adults, the content is perfect for children. I appreciated the way Latham didn't minimized or sugarcoat the tragedy in Bowditch's life. Nor did she gloss over his relationships with his first wife Elizabeth, or Polly, his second. What does come across is Bowditch's love of mathematics and the seriousness with which he applies it to navigating the high seas. He does not suffer fools easily but his passion for teaching is enthusiastic and patient.
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LibraryThing member jjvors
A wonderful account of life in seafaring Salem Massachusetts from 1779 to about 1800. The protagonist grows from a young boy to a bookkeeper's apprentice to a young man, enduring sorrows and disappointments, while steadfastly keeping to his goal.
LibraryThing member ABVR
Captivating based-on-fact tale of young Nat Bowditch, who grows up in a seafaring family in Salem, MA just after the Revolution and becomes world-famous as a ship's navigator and practical mathematician. One of the most important books of my youth . . . a revelation for a kid who, like Nat, didn't
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quite "fit in" because he loved books and science and learning. I revelled in the fact that Nat triumphs *because* he's book-smart.
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LibraryThing member tjsjohanna
Ms. Latham creates the world of eighteenth-century mathematical and nautical wonder, Nathaniel Bowditch. From his earliest years to his adult success as a man who changed the face of navigation, the author paints a picture of a likeable boy (and man) who never lets adversity and sorrow get in the
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way of using his intelligence and making a way in the world for himself. Clearly qualified to pursue higher education, when circumstances preclude formal study, Nat does it all on his own - and then passes that knowledge on to others in ways that make them better too. A very enjoyable book.
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LibraryThing member bell7
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
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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 - 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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LibraryThing member mirrani
They say less is more and this book grasps that concept perfectly. The biggest issue most have when reading this book is that it jumps through time or it leaves parts of letters or stories cut short. Readers don't actually need the contents of someone's every meal to keep them satisfied when
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reading a book. We all live through our lives, we know there are days, weeks or months out of a year when nothing interesting or important happens. To include all those bland, uneventful days in a book would make it overly dull and would turn young readers away quickly. This was a story they will be able to relate to and can therefore become involved in with little effort, which will help them get the most out of enjoying it.

If I had one issue with the book it is the way sea terminology was handled. Writers know the readers don't always know the vocabulary or phrasing used in a time period or on a particular subject, so they have to find a way to slip in the definitions or explanations of these things. I didn't find that aspect very well handled, it was so blatantly obvious that it was a slap in the face at the beginning of the book to have people who grew up with the sea have to ask what people mean with their typical lingo or seem to quiz each other on what the things mean. I understand it's a hard skill to master, but this book isn't really even a student of the master yet. It'll do fine for younger readers, but the older you get, the more you're going to notice.

Finally, Bowditch yells. A LOT. We're not talking about getting mad and screaming at someone here, we're talking about when someone is in a normal conversation and just shouts without reason. That's annoying too, because it's never really explained why he does this "roaring" all the time, he just does it and then life (or the conversation) goes on. There maybe should have been a little more there other than an implication well into the book that he got easily upset when people didn't know things, which I thought wasn't a good enough implication to justify the action. If it was his nature, just say so.

I have recommended this book to several families, including those who have children who are struggling in school, because it sets the example that you can learn anything you want to learn if you only work at it. It also shows readers that anyone can grow up to make a difference in the world, even those who have struggled to get where they are. Everyone has the ability to look into the future, set their own course, and carry on.
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LibraryThing member MrsLee
We used this as supplemental reading when we studied inventors and Early American history. It is a very engaging story of a young man finding his place in the world through adversity and persevering in his ideas. Bowditch is known as the father of maritime navigation.
LibraryThing member lcarter11
I'm impressed by the young Mr. Bowditch's ingenuity and courage, as portrayed in Jean Lee Latham's vivid retelling of his story. You'll find plenty of adventure, color, and hard work.
LibraryThing member fingerpost
This historical novel tells the tale of Nathaniel Bowditch, whose mathematical genius advanced navigation in the early days of the late 18th and early 19th century. The imagined dialogue makes the history read like a true adventure novel. Nat Bowditch is a highly likable character, from his
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childhood, where the story begins, on into adulthood, ending on his return from a journey as ship captain. The ending was a little anticlimactic, but when you're telling a true story, you're kind of stuck with what really happened.
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LibraryThing member Ldecher
I liked this book and so did my 11-year-old. A wonderful bookstore owner in Alexandria told me kids still like it :) and kids who like math LOVE it. Short chapters so easy to read aloud. It is a biography and there are some tragic events--very gently handled, but characters are lost at sea etc.
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Good story about overcoming disadvantages, using your strengths and sensitive exploration of what it feels like to find math easy and some people difficult to understand. Highly recommended.
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LibraryThing member drmom62
This is possibly my favorite book that we read during my children's time homeschooling. It's based on history that is really significant and fascinating.


Newbery Medal (Medal Winner — 1956)
Vermont Golden Dome Book Award (Nominee — 1956-1957)


Original publication date


Physical description

256 p.; 5.51 x 0.63 inches


0618250743 / 9780618250745




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