Friday, April 26, 2013

Week #6: Report on two children's books

A couple of weeks ago, someone we knew was giving away a whole bunch of books and let us look through them to see if there were any books we wanted. I pulled out Carry on, Mr. Bowditch because it sounded familiar to me. I decided to read it for this assignment.

The book is written by Jean Lee Latham. I really enjoyed the story, and the best part of all is that it is true! After getting about halfway through the book, I realized that the accomplishments of Nathaniel Bowditch, the book's main character, were a stretch to mix fiction with history, or this guy really did some things that impacted the U.S. I googled his name, and it turns out that he really lived and did the things in the book. I love stories like that!

The story starts in the middle of the American Revolution when Nathaniel, or Nat, was six years old, and follows him through his fifth voyage and his writing of the most accurate book on navigation up to that point. I love how the author portrays history so accurately throughout the story. And throughout the book, she uses people's explanations to the child Nat, or Nat's explanations as an adult, to teach about things in early American life. I learned so much reading that book!

Nat's family falls on some real tough times during the revolution and in the years following when the economy was so bad. Because they are struggling, Nat's father pulls him out of school and has him work in his cooperage. This is pretty discouraging to Nat. Then he ends up being indentured to a ship chandler. One fellow tells him that his life is over, that's he's been becalmed. A friend tells him that he doesn't have to be becalmed. He can sail by ash breeze. Naturally, Nat want's to know what that means.

The friend tells him, "When a ship is becalmed--the wind died down--she can't move--sometimes the sailors break out their oars. They'll row a boat ahead of the ship and tow her. Or they'll carry out anchors and heave them over, and the crew will lean on the capstan bars and drag the ship up to where the anchors are heaved over. Oars are made of ash--white ash. So--when you get ahead by your own get-up-and-get--that's when you sail by ash breeze."

The story of Nat's life is one of sailing by ash breeze. He educates himself and works very hard. He ends up being a scientist, mathematician, navigator, businessman and surveyor. He never stopped working and doing his best, even when times were tough and it didn't seem like he was getting anywhere.

The book won the Newbery medal, and for good reason. It's a fantastic story!

The original reason for this assignment was so that I could read the many children's books in my bookcase that I haven't looked at yet. I wanted to make sure that they were the best books I could get for my kids. One of those books that have sitting on a shelf unread was one called Understood Betsy, by Dorothy Cansfield Fisher.

The story starts with a young girl that's been raised to be a nervous, frightened, dependent child who lives with her aunts. The setting is around the turn of the 20th century. Certain circumstances occur that end up with her being sent to some other relatives who lived on a farm and whom she hasn't ever met. They don't coddle her at all, and they let her do things on her own, teach her to do chores, help her learn to laugh and to be independent. It's a great story!

There are two things that really made me enjoy reading the book. One was the sarcasm that the writer puts in. She has a fun way of telling the story from the viewpoint of a narrator and inserting fun comments. The other thing that I really loved was her imagery and specific details. They were so down-home and real. I grew up on a farm, and her descriptions, while short and to the point, were rich. It brought so many memories of my own childhood.

So, I highly recommend both books. They're fantastic!

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