Saturday Book Review: Carry on Mr. Bowditch

I have found it a challenge in my four years of teaching to find a book that will be both educational, literary and engaging to the students.  In fact, only Carry On Mr. Bowditch, and the Chronicles of Narnia have managed to acheive each of those goals.

The book tells the true story of Nathaniel Bowditch, one of America’s first home grown savants, beginning at the age of six, when his school teacher accused him of cheating on his math assignments because no six year old could have done the problems Nat was working easily.  Unfortunately, while a math genius, he is the fourth of seven children, and the son of a drunken cooper.  At the age of ten he is removed from school and eventually placed in indentured servitude.  This could have been the end of his story, but it’s only the first chapter in what proves to be an inspiring story of a self taught genius who ends up seeing the world and literally writing the book on practical navigation.

Written from Nathaniel’s perspective, Jean Lee Latham engages the reader instantly and draws us in to pre-revolutionary Massachusetts through the eyes of a six year old boy.  My middle school boys enjoyed the action of the book’s sea voyages, and Nathaniel’s travels, while the girls enjoyed reading about the relationships Nat built throughout his life.  All of the students were fascinated by the history and the geography of the book, and wanted to know why they hadn’t learned about Nat Bowditch before they read the book.

It really is a great book for middle school students.  If I were home schooling a middle schooler, I would build an entire unit study around Carry On Mr. Bowditch, as it includes history, geography, math, latin, and science all in an engaging, and entertaining story.  So often we focus on the same handful of historic characters rather than reaching out to some of the more obscure, but no less important characters that are often over looked.  Nathaniel Bowditch is one such character, and Ms. Latham’s work is a fitting tribute to a fascinating life.