Carry On, Mr Bowditch, Jean Lee Latham, Houghton Mifflin Company, 1955, 251 pp
Here we have the Newbery Award winner for 1956 and it is an example of the best of the Newbery Awards, according to me. Nathaniel Bowditch wrote the famous American Practical Navigator, published in 1799. In this biography of his life, which is certainly appropriate for ages 8-12 but kept me captivated on every page, we learn that Nat was puny for his age as a kid. Due to the financial difficulties of his parents, he had to leave school and go into indentured service as a bookkeeper at a ship chandlery when he was 12 years old. Since the contract was for nine years, he was 21 when he became a free man.
But Nat was a math whiz and a friendly person. Many people helped him with loans of books and encouragement, so that instead of going to Harvard as he had dreamed, he educated himself, learning Latin and reading Newton's Principia Mathematica in his off hours. Eventually he went to sea despite his size, where he developed a better, safer way to navigate. Those chapters were the most exciting, though the story of his loves, marriage and family were also eye-opening as to the harshness of life in colonial America.
What I like about reading books written for kids is that they usually explain all the difficult and technical words. I learned quite a bit about ships, sailing and navigation which will help me f I have to read any more bestsellers set on the high seas. Carry On, Mr Bowditch is a highly inspirational story about courage, the importance of knowledge and carrying on in spite of hardships and disappointments, but does not preach and is not at all sappy. It would be a great book for a reluctant reader, boy or girl.
(Carry On, Mr Bowditch is available in paperback on the Newbery shelf at Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)