Several devices make Far Voyager accessible to young readers. Latham begins with scenes from Cook’s childhood at ages eight and thirteen. Like most children, he wanted what he could not have, but in his case it was an education. Latham also uses the character of Elizabeth Cook’s young cousin Isaac to express what the reserved, laconic Yorkshire sailor could not. She has Isaac blurt out evidence of his cousin’s love for Cook before the young sailor can declare himself to Elizabeth. As a young boy, Isaac sails with Cook on a summer voyage and, upon his return, reveals the dangers to which Cook has been exposed and the heroism he has exhibited—information that Cook would never have shared. When Isaac voices discontent with the prospect of a life ashore, he is said to speak Cook’s own sentiments. Isaac’s childlike spontaneity bridges the gap between a young reader and the reserved Captain Cook.
The title Far Voyager implies that Cook’s expeditions are the focus of the biography, which is partly true. In another sense, however, Cook was a social “far voyager.” The idea that merit can breach the barriers of an entrenched class system unifies the work. Cook’s youthful restlessness and his unflagging commitment to learning grow from the discomfort of a keen mind lying fallow. Even the brief glimpses that Latham allows of Cook’s family life ashore support the development of this theme. He de-layed asking Elizabeth to marry him because he was not a commissioned officer. When he received his commission at last, Elizabeth confessed her anger that he had been unjustly overlooked for so long. His honors and rewards came...
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Latham had a distinguished career writing biographies for young adults, often choosing subjects that seem difficult or unlikely. After her Newbery Medal award-winning Carry On, Mr. Bowditch (1955), the biography of a naval mathematician, she wrote several other biographies of maritime subjects. Her success depended on two primary ingredients: exhaustive research and an unerring sense of what to omit or reduce. The result was almost always accurate and readable biography that held the interest of young readers. Far Voyager is no exception.
The locale of Cook’s voyages has some intrinsic appeal to young readers, even though the subject’s personality seems somewhat remote. The South Sea islands, as well as life aboard a sailing ship, are exotic. Journals, official accounts, drawings, paintings, maps, charts, and reports of Cook’s voyages are all still available and interesting to a broad audience. In fact, the very richness of resources posed a formidable problem in selection.
Yet the wealth of materials by and about Captain Cook has not daunted Latham’s sense of proportion. The outlines of Cook’s character are present and the author accounts for his major achievements. She suggests but omits the details of political and social pressures that often affected Cook’s assignments, resources, and promotions. From the standpoint of an older or more sophisticated reader, the breathless pace of Latham’s narrative as it skims the surface events of Cook’s life may fail to satisfy. From the standpoint of a young adult seeking a readable book full of action and inspiration, however, Far Voyager remains high on the list of good biographies.