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Book Review

This review was created by the editorial staff at Thriving Family magazine

This historical, coming-of age book by Jean Lee Latham is published by Houghton Mifflin and is written for kids ages 10 to 14. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.

Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

Other Negative Elements


Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Feeling the financial impact of war and death on his family, former sea captain Habakkuk Bowditch of old Salem indentures his son, Nat, to a shipping company. Nat has an amazing head for mathematics. His teacher believes he could attend Harvard. But his apprenticeship requires him to work for his employers until he's 21, too old for school. Despite his circumstances, Nat takes every opportunity to learn about navigation and shipping. He goes on to write books, teach crews how to figure important sailing calculations and serve as captain of a ship.

Christian Beliefs

Grandma says it's not Christian to waste food. Nat learns several languages, including Latin, Spanish and French, by using the Bible (and specifically, the first chapter of John) as a translation tool. A kind and scholarly clergyman, Dr. Bentley, teaches and encourages Nat.

Other Belief Systems

As a child, Nat is convinced that a spell — jingling change in his pocket under a full moon — will bring good luck to his family. Nat's father gives up sailing because he believes he'll bring bad luck to any crew he joins.

Authority Roles

After Nat's father wrecked his ship, it "took the tuck out of him" (according to Grandma). The text hints at Habakkuk's tendency to turn to alcohol in troubled times. Nat's employers, the captain under which he served and Dr. Bentley all trust and respect Nat, giving him freedom and resources to teach himself and others the ways of the sea. As an authority figure himself (while serving in high positions on voyages), Nat spends most of his spare time teaching the crew members lessons that could help them improve their own stations in life.




Nat is kissed goodbye before his voyage.

Discussion Topics

If your children have read this book or someone has read it to them, consider these discussion topics:

  • Nat, a real figure in American history, is considered the founder of modern maritime navigation. He always finds a way to learn what he wants to know, despite his circumstances.
  • What are some ways a person can improve or be educated, even without a lot of money or time?
  • Can a person ever be too old to learn?

  • Nat frequently points out that sailing has everything to do with mathematics.

  • What are some careers today that require a strong knowledge of math?

  • What talents has God given you that you feel you should develop?

  • How could you use your skills to teach others?

Additional Comments/Notes

Book reviews cover the content, themes and world-views of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. A book's inclusion does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.

You can request a review of a title you can't find at reviewrequests@family.org.

Episode Reviews



Readability Age Range

10 to 14


Jean Lee Latham






Record Label



Houghton Mifflin


On Video

Year Published



Newbery Award, 1956


We hope this review was both interesting and useful. Please share it with family and friends who would benefit from it as well.

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