Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Mary Patten’s Voyage

Mary Patten’s Voyage

Richard Berleth
Illustrator:  Ben Otero 
Picture Book
For ages 10 to 12
Albert Whitman and Co., 1994   ISBN: 978-0807549872

In this day and age it is so easy for us to get from place to place that we tend to forget that there was a time when travel was dangerous, terribly costly, and not something to be considered unless it was absolutely necessary. In the mid 1850’s a madness seized San Francisco. Gold had been found and people were desperate for goods. The faster a ship could get to California the better and thus, the clipper ship races came into being. Clipper ships were built for speed and they began to race against one another to see who could get to California carrying goods the fastest. It was a terrible journey because the ships had to go around Cape Horn, a storm ridden place that all sailors with any sense feared. This book tells the story of one particular clipper ship which was involved in a three-way race. Called Neptune’s Car, it ended up being piloted and captained by the wife of the ship’s captain, a remarkable woman called Mary Patten.

Captain Patten got very sick soon after leaving port and it was the skill and sense of Mary, along with the experience of the crew, which got the ship around Cape Horn, in one piece, and with no loss of life. Having sailed to China with her husband, Mary had learned how to navigate and read charts, and she also knew Neptune’s Car intimately.

Told from the point of view of the first mate, this is a wonderful story about a fascinating time in world history. Gouache paintings show us how truly magnificent the clipper ships were, and bring to life the harsh realities of life on one of these ships.