Carry On, Mr. Bowditch

Carry On, Mr. Bowditch

First edition cover
Author Jean Lee Latham
Cover artist John O'Hara Cosgrave II
Country United States
Language English
Series none
Genre Children's novel, Biographical novel
Publisher Houghton Mifflin
Publication date
9 September 1955
Media type Print (Hardback & Paperback)
Pages 251
ISBN 0-395-06881-9
OCLC 15814480

Carry On, Mr. Bowditch is a novel by Jean Lee Latham that was awarded the Newbery Medal in 1956.

The book is a children's biography of Nathaniel Bowditch, a sailor and mathematician who published the mammoth and comprehensive reference work for seamen: The American Practical Navigator. It is an epic tale of adventure and learning.

Plot summary

The novel introduces readers to young Nathaniel "Nat" Bowditch, the son of a ship captain. Nat loves school, especially mathematics. He dreams of someday attending Cambridge's Harvard University, but is forced by economic circumstances to quit school and help his father at the coopering. Eventually, he ends up as an indentured servant to a ship's chandler. Still determined to continue his education, and compelled to work for the chandlery for nine long years, he begins to teach himself Latin. After being granted access to a local private library, he continues to study and to master mathematics in the evenings after work.

When his indenture is complete, he gets the chance to go to sea. There, he discovers that many of the navigational sources used at the time contain extensive and dangerous errors. He is prompted to compile a new book of navigational information. This book, The American Practical Navigator, is still in use today. Under Captain Prince, Nat learns how things work at sea. He invents a new way of working a lunar, increasing the accuracy of calculations used to find ships' locations. He also teaches the crew on the ships about navigation. It took a while for the men to understand, but when they did understand, the men, such as Lem Harvey, the crew's troublemaker, felt smart and important. He also let Little Johnny look through a sextant and search for Polaris. Eventually Nat becomes a captain himself. In the course of the book, Nat receives a Master of Arts degree from the school he always wanted to attend, Harvard.


Nat's grandma and mother both die at the beginning of the book (on the same page). Lizza, Nat's closest sister, died at a party when she tumbled down the stairs. Mary (Nat's oldest sister) was married to a seaman named David Martin. David and his entire crew died of fever during their voyage at sea. Nat's brother, Samuel, died of fever in the West Indies. Nat meets Elizabeth Boardman, and comforts her when her father, a sea captain, dies. Years later, they get married. On his next voyage, when Nat met another Salem captain in port during a voyage, he found out that Elizabeth had died. Nat really missed Elizabeth because she had kissed him, right before Nat left to sea. Later in the story, he also finds out that Hab and William were lost at sea because of book sailing. Lem was said to be dead, but he survived. Then, when he was going to return his dowry, Elizabeth's mother invited Nat to stay with her and he married Mary Ingersoll (better known as Polly), Elizabeth's cousin and well-trusted friend. He meets a man named Tom Perry as a kid. Nat invested in his boat but that was risky and it was his only money. Tom Perry dies saving a first-mate.

Further reading

Intended for young readers, Carry On, Mr. Bowditch includes many dramatized and fictional components. A serious modern biography for older readers is Robert E. Berry's Yankee Stargazer, published in 1941. This book is a true story.

Preceded by
The Wheel on the School
Newbery Medal recipient
Succeeded by
Miracles on Maple Hill
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