Stowaway: sofa travels with Captain Cook

Stowaway HR18

A, S  (to a certain extent G) and I just completed some adventurous arm chair travel from Plymouth, England, down to what used to be called New Holland, and around New Zealand, then down Cape Horn, and back to England.  That’s right, we circumnavigated the globe.  Newberry-award winner Karen Hesse has written a masterfully researched novel for middle schoolers entitled Stowaway.  It chronicles stowaway Nicholas Young’s three-year voyage on Captain Cook’s Endeavour as the crew attempts to chart the eastern shores of New Holland (today Australia) and the yet unknown continent of New Zeland.  From 1768 – 1771 young Nick eventually sails as a crew member, befriends a native from Tahiti, takes his blows from the fierce midshipman Mr. John Bootie, teaches a crew member to read and write, becomes apprenticed to the naturalist Mr. Joseph Banks, fights off malaria, dysentery and the like to return to his own English shore.  Hesse takes the name of an eleven-year old boy actually found on Endeavour’s roster and fleshes him into a character with a tragic past, yet full of intelligence, discernment and strong moral fiber.

We have been finishing up our history for the year, placing us in the early 1600s, in the age of exploration.  Although this novel takes place a hundred fifty years later, the topic still seemed to fit.  The boys and I had a great time with this read aloud.  Reading with them is one of the pure joys of learning at home.  I wish everything were this enjoyable.  We were all surprised to discover how much G had been listening while running in and out of the room.  We have caught him yelling “Land ho!” several times.  Here is what we did:


Latitude and longitude.  Stowaway reads as Nicholas Young’s log while on board the Endeavour.  At each entry he records his location by the latitude and longitude coordinates.  We kept our globe nearby and periodically followed Captain Cook’s ship.  To be honest, the guys wearied of this after a bit.  I think it broke up the story too much, but it was initially good practice.


Hesse obviously read volumes of other logs and historical accounts in order to provide the details of Joseph Banks’ finds along the journey.  S, in particular, enjoyed trying to guess which new creature was being discovered by the description.  At one point cuttlefish are described.  This was a relatively new cephalopod for S, so we stopped and read a bit about them.  This was the National Geographic video here that captured S’s imagination.


Who knew I would intiate something which A would be so enthusiastic about?  To close out our time with the novel we brainstormed several follow-up questions regarding the history of the novel.  Here are what the guys came up with – (yes, even G contributed a question).

1.  What eventually happens to Captain Cook?

2.  What sort of person was John Bootie?  Did he really have a cruel character?

3.  Describe how and why they threw people in the sea at the equator.

4.  Did Nicholas Young become Mr. Banks’ apprentice?

5.  What was the purpose of the 1772 voyage to Iceland?

6.  What plants/animals were discovered on the Endeavour?

7.  Find out more about Joseph Banks.

8.  Which islands were discovered by Endeavour?  Are they still called by the same name today?

9.  Find out about the food eaten on ships during this time period.

Wikipedia was a good starting place to gather information.  They also hit a few history websites.  A and S spent about an hour researching their pick of questions, and about ten to fifteen minutes retelling what they had discovered.  A took fairly impressive notes.  S just filed it all in his memory bank.  They learned a great deal.  Moreover, I think they actually enjoyed it.