Cindy Vallar, Editor & Reviewer
P.O. Box 425, Keller, TX 76244-0425
Books for Pirate Apprentices and Young Adults
Saying goodbye to the sharks on the last day of summer is a ritual for Fidelia Quail. She has studied her favorite fish for eleven years – her whole life. But this year, the sharks just aren’t cooperating. Not a single one is anywhere to be found, even though Fidelia entices them with their favorite chum. While she hopes and waits, her parents are down below in the submersible Fidelia invented. They are famous oceanographers who study the fish and flora of the nine seas. Fidelia is on the research boat, tagging fish and watching the Undertow – the deadly winter storms – approach.
Still, there’s time to make it back to the safety of Arborley Harbor. Her parents agree to ten more minutes, which turns out to be good because that’s when the biggest shark Fidelia has ever seen appears. Not only is his size a surprise, but it’s a totally new species! She names him “Grizzle” because of the scar on his dorsal fin, and if she can tag him, she will become famous. Aside from getting to decide on Grizzle’s scientific name, she might even win an award to go beside those of her parents.
The sea becomes rougher and time has run out. She misses tagging Grizzle and radios her parents that she’s heading for home and will meet them there. But they never arrive. When the submersible finally washes ashore, it’s smashed to bits. The loss of her beloved parents hits Fidelia hard and she blames herself for their deaths. Aunt Julia, the supreme librarian at Arborley Library (Fidelia’s new home), is understanding and caring. But she’s not Fidelia’s mother or father. As the days pass, Fidelia helps out at the library, but she never ventures outside, never visits her seafaring friends, never even opens her journal or cares about sharks.
One day, Aunt Julia tells her they must go to Fidelia’s house to pack up everything. The house is to be sold and all the contents belong to the university that funded the Quails’ research. Aunt Julia also suggests that perhaps she and Fidelia should move to the mainland – a suggestion that means moving away from the only home Fidelia has ever known. Too upset to think, she runs from the library, eventually making her way to where she lived with her parents.
And encounters pirates. Not just any sea-robbers, but the most notorious pirate, who is “wanted in thirty nations for robbery, burglary, arson, murder, jail breaking, and piracy” – Merrick the Monstrous, Terror of the nine seas – and his mates, Cheapshot Charlie and Bloody Elle. (85) They’ve come for Dr. and Dr. Quail, but since they’re not available, Fidelia will do. They’re kidnapping her, but if she helps willingly, Merrick promises to return her to Arborley within a week. If she refuses, he’s not known for being nice. Fidelia sees no alternative but to go with her kidnappers, so she collects the equipment she will need and the pirates take her to the Jewel, a pirate ship that has seen better days. Hopefully, the vessel will get them to where she’s supposed to help Merrick recover his treasure.
There are just three, no four, minor problems . . . well, perhaps not so little really. Merrick has violent coughing spells and is getting sicker each day. Fidelia has never quite gotten out the bugs in the Water-Eater – her invention that should allow her to breathe underwater, but does not. Then there’s another group of pirates, whose leader holds Merrick responsible for the loss of one of his mates. And the fourth complication? Admiral Bridgewater of Her Majesty’s Navy. This pirate hunter is particularly determined on capturing and hanging Merrick the Monstrous. He’s come close several times in the past, but each time Merrick has foiled his plans or managed to escape from prison. NOT THIS TIME! He will recover Merrick’s treasure and see him dead once and for all, no matter what!
Written for eight to twelve year olds, Race to the Bottom of the Sea is a wonderful scientific pirate adventure that readers of all ages will enjoy. Interspersed throughout the present-day story are brief interludes that show readers how the lives of Merrick the Monstrous and the other pirates intersect with Admiral Bridgewater and Fidelia’s family. They end with quotations from one of Dr. and Dr. Quail’s many books, Exploring an Underwater Fairyland, which are tied into what is recounted. Fidelia is an intelligent, bubbly girl who must come to terms with devastating loss and upheavals in her life. As she learns to cope, she also discovers that sometimes even nasty pirates have good qualities and that she’s not the only one who’s been hurt and has regrets. Race to the Bottom of the Sea is both entertaining and educational. It’s a great story to read aloud, perhaps with other pirate fans (like parents or librarians and teachers; maybe even the principal), or just by yourself. Even boys will like this Junior Library Guild selection, even though Fidelia is a girl.
Review Copyrighted ©2018 Cindy Vallar
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