|cover via Goodreads|
While that sounds sobering, it's actually an upbeat tale full of educational interest. Including things like the Revolutionary War, The War of 1812, facts about navigation and shipbuilding, and Nat's interest in foreign languages, as well as interspersed beats of humor, you could spend a lot of time discussing various aspects of it in a school curriculum.
I don't own a copy of Carry On, Mr. Bowditch yet, but I did actually find a copy of Nat's book, The American Practical Navigator at a local book sale (not an original edition, but pretty cool to look through, especially since it's so thick.)
But what I'm most excited about when I read it is the themes of the tale itself. Nat Bowditch had nothing handed to him. He was smart enough to go to Harvard, but his dad couldn't make ends meet, so Nat was indentured for nine years--from the time he was twelve until the time he was twenty-one. By that time in history, it was too late to go to college. His dream was dead. Instead of despairing, in a moving imagery of sailing by ash breeze (having to use the oars when there is no wind) Nat taught himself countless things he needed to know simply by having a learning, hungry mind.
Nat learned diligently (he wasn't stumped by anything too hard, even learning Latin to read Newton's Principia). Nat's learning wasn't quick, though he was bright. The story shows him taking months, over a year, to learn Latin, translating Principia sentence by sentence so he could read it.
Nat is a stellar example of a diligent hard worker who keeps on dreaming, keeps on learning, and doesn't forget to turn back and give a helping hand to someone else so they can learn too. His investment in sailors who never would have been able to be first mates without his help showed that in spite of his brilliant learning, he was able to maintain humility.
The characters that people Nat's world--from sweet Elizabeth Boardman with "eyes in the back of her heart" to Polly, with her installments of common sense and good conversation to keep Nat on track with his writing deadlines--to David's funny, adorable romance with Nat's sister, Mary, offer sweetness and love to counterbalance Nat's earnest pursuit of mathematics. It's a world you won't want to miss, written simply enough to delight the children in your life, while being deep and timeless enough to challenge and warm the heart of any adult who reads it along with them. If sons of mine (or daughters) pick up on Nat as a role model, I'll be pretty happy.