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Cindy Vallar, Editor & Reviewer
P.O. Box 425, Keller, TX  76244-0425

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Books for Pirate Apprentices and Young Adults

Cover Art: The Treasure of Barracuda
The Treasure of Barracuda
By Llanos Campos
Illustrated by Júlia Sardà
Translated by Lawrence Schimel
Little Pickle Press, 2016, ISBN 978-1-939775-14-6, $15.95


A long time ago, back when pirates sailed on wooden ships in the Caribbean Sea, an eleven-year-old lad with freckles has a most particular, and dangerous, adventure. Sparks invites you to join him on his journey, but warns that you must listen well. Every word is true; he never tells a lie! In his world mistakes can get you hurt, or worse, and you don’t get second chances. Along the way he imparts sage advice – such as never sit in a tavern with your back to the door – from lessons he’s learned in the three years he’s been a member of the Southern Cross.

With only a rusty hook for a left hand and a face badly scarred, Captain Barracuda is feared far and wide by other pirates. He’s clever, shows no mercy, and brags about having zero friends. He spends most of his time alone, or in conference with Nuño, the man he trusts the most among the crew, and the man who “adopted Sparks after he was abandoned at the age of eight. Sparks, however, has many friends among the fifty-three pirates: Two Molars, One-Eyed Boasnovas, John the Whale, Erik the Belgian, Malik the Malian, and Russian Kitty.

For six years Barracuda has searched for treasure buried by the oldest pirate to sail the South Seas – Phineas Krane. Many other pirates have hunted for this treasure, but only Barracuda is clever enough to find it. And he should since he even spent time in jail to gather clues from a man everyone else thought was crazy. When the Southern Cross arrives at the island of Kopra, Barracuda leads them to the exact spot where his men must dig. But the treasure within the chest isn’t gold, silver, and gems. Oh no, it’s “a blasted book!”

Barracuda is so angry he shuts himself in his cabin and doesn’t emerge until they return to Maracaibo. Once the ship docks, he fires the entire crew. Sparks and his mates are dumbfounded and not quite certain what to do. Then Barracuda advertises for a new crew and prospective candidates are to come to the Southern Cross on Saturday. Imagine his surprise when the weekend arrives and the only men on the dock are Sparks, Nuño, One-Eyed Boasnovas, John the Whale, and all the other pirates who used to sail with the captain. Since he needs a crew and they need work, what else can he do but take them all back?. And the last to board – sneaking onto the Southern Cross – is Two Molars with a package.

One night, they catch Two Molars hiding under the pantry steps reading a book by candlelight. Eyes widen when he confesses that it’s Phineas Krane’s book and that he just had to read it because he saw his name in it. Well, soon everyone wants to hear the story, so Two Molars must read aloud. But he’s not the best reader and it takes time for him to figure out strange words. Then Sparks has a brilliant idea – he wants to learn to read. Before long so does everyone else. There are just two problems: Two Molars isn’t the best teacher and there’s only one book, but fifty-two pirates.

Anyone who’s ever attempted to read knows just how confusing a task it can be, what with words that are spelled the same but are pronounced differently. Before long, Two Molars becomes so frustrated he quits. But the pirates aren’t deterred. Sometimes it just takes time before what you’re taught snaps into place. And sometimes what you think isn’t treasure is actually a grand treasure . . . one that just might lead to even greater booty . . . if you’re willing to take a chance and brave dangerous places and come face-to-face with scurvy, untrustworthy people! Especially when you know you’re not the only one looking for Phineas Krane’s treasure.

The Treasure of Barracuda may be written for pirate apprentices, but I loved this book. I laughed, frowned, and held my breath as Sparks guided me through his adventure. It won the 2014 Barco de Vapor Award for Children’s Literature in Spain and is one of the best books I’ve read this year; adult pirates will enjoy it as much as younger ones. For those unfamiliar with pirate and nautical language, Barracuda’s Glossary will help you understand the world of pirates and sailing ships. Schimel’s translation of the original Spanish is seamless. Campos hooks you from the first page, and the innovative language and roller coaster action keeps you reading. Sardà’s colorful artwork is expressive and brings Sparks, Barracuda, and the other Southern Crosses to life. What’s even better is the promise of more adventures to come with Sparks and his mates.
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