Carry On, Mr. Bowditch
by Jean Lee Latham, published 1955; Newbery Medal 1956
“The troops from Andover appeared in there dashing red uniforms, every button shining, leather gleaming…The church bells chimed. Then a great shout went up. For there was President Washington – a tall, commanding man, riding horseback to enter the town.”
Here’s a children’s book that is so informative, it’s a little hard not to compare it to a dull textbook that might teach the same subject. The subject matter is navigation, discoveries, and life at the time of the American Revolution. The book is filled with mathematical and nautical facts, which might repel some readers. However, for any enthusiastic student, and especially for any middle or high school history or math teachers, this historical fiction children’s book is a fabulous classroom resource. If you are a parent of a child who loves history, math, or sailing, this is also a good choice for you.
One of the best features of good historical fiction is that it offers so much to learn, and it’s so easy to take it in when there is a narrative to go along with it. This particular children’s book is about a little known figure in American navigation, and much of the content is accurate and true. At the same time, there’s lots of drama and suspense in the story, because life on the seas in the 1700s was extremely dangerous and unpredictable.
I not only enjoyed reading the book but also sharing the arcane bits of knowledge I gleaned from it. For example, I stumped a physicist friend of mine when I challenged him to tell time using the Big Dipper and the North Star. If you want to know how, you’ll just have to read the book as well.