Friday, 23 September 2016

Carry on, Mr Bowditch

Carry On, Mr Bowditch by Jean Lee Latham is a children's biography of the American navigator and mathematician, Nathaniel Bowditch. The book was originally published in 1955 and won the Newbery Medal in 1956.
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Perhaps, because I am English, I hadn't heard of Nathaniel Bowditch before. However, he was an important figure and responsible for saving the lives of many sailors.

Jean Latham tells the story of a boy who came from a poor background. Nathaniel desperately wanted to go to Harvard but instead was indentured to a chandler for nine long years. A studious and determined boy, Bowditch applied himself to study of maths, science and even taught himself Latin so that he could read the scientific books of the day. His method for learning Latin and later other languages was to acquire a Latin Bible, dictionary and grammar and teach himself from there. Thankfully, he did have a Frenchman to help him with his French accent.

Later, having finished his apprenticeship, Nathaniel went on voyages where he discovered a more efficient way of of working out a ship's location using the position of the moon. He also discovered that the charts in the current sailing text, Moore's Almanac, contained thousands of errors. These errors could, and did, cost lives. Eventually, Bowditch wrote his own navigation text The American Practical Navigator. According to Wikipedia, this book is still carried on US naval vessels.

I enjoyed this book. It is ideal for children who are less keen on fiction and shows the importance of maths in real life. Highly recommended. Suggested age range 8+.

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1 comment:

  1. This sounds such a great read aloud for my children. I love your book recommendations - keep them coming!