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The History of Maritime Piracy

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

Pirate Articles
Pirate Links
Book Reviews
Thistles & Pirates

Books for Pirate Apprentices and Young Adults


Alex and the Ironic Gentleman
The Curse of Captain LaFoote

Dead Cool
The Jolley-Rogers and the Cave of Doom
Pirates Off Kilter
Tell No Tales
Terra Vonnel & the Skulls of Aries
Timothy and the Dragon's Gate
Vampirates: Tide of Terror

The Adventures of Captain Antonio
 Capt. Hook
The Dangerous Legacy
Daughter of the Pirate King
Deadly Waters
Double O Stephen and the Ghostly Realm
Emily Windsnap and the Pirate Prince
The Jolley-Rogers and the Ghostly Galleon
The Jolley-Rogers and the Pirate Piper
Katherine of Carrick
The Left-Handed Fate
Lingtang and the Pirate Queen
Magic Marks the Spot
Misty Gordon and the Mystery of the Ghost Pirates
My Mom the Pirate
Peter & the Starcatchers
The Pirate's Sister (CD)
Pirates Off and On Again
Pirates Off the Deep End
Pirates Off the Mark
Pirates Off the Wall
Scratch and the Pirates of Paradise Cove
Sea of Kings

Tides of Avarice
Tides of Mutiny

Worse Things Happen at Sea!
Fiction & Graphic Novels

Blackbeard's Sword
Caribbean Capers
The Circus Comes to Town
Jack Plank Tells Tales
Jolly Roger: Escape from Veracruz
Jolly Roger: Prisoners of the Black Octopus
 Jolly Roger: Shark Island

King of the Pirates
Pirate's Passage
The Pirate's Plot
Pirates Don’t Wear Pink Sunglasses
Roobtbeer Beard
Scratch Kitten on the Pirate's Shoulder
Treasure Island
Uncle Pirate to the Rescue

Captured by Pirates
The Dread Crew
Ghost Ship
Hostage Three
Jolly Roger: The Pirate's Legacy
Jolly Roger: The Ghost Ship
Jolly Roger: The Plumed Serpent's Gold
Jolly Roger: Prisoners of the Black Octopus
Pirate Queen

Polly and the Pirates
Race to the Bottom of the Sea
The Treasure of Barracuda
Uncle Pirate
Violet & ... Rotten Pirates
Will of the Pirates
Historical Fiction

The Buccaneers
Calusa Spirits

Captain Hannah Pritchard
The Country Pirate
The Day the Pirates Went Mad
The Giant Rat of Sumatra

Hannah Pritchard
In the Belly of the Bloodhound
Isle of Fire
A Moment in Time II: Pirates!
Pirate Hannah Pritchard Captured!
Pirate of Panther Bay
Privateer's Apprentice

Rapture of the Deep
The Time Pirate

To Catch a Pirate
Under the Jolly Roger

The Black Corsair
Bloody Jack
Chrissie Warren: Pirate Hunter

 The Dagger Quick
Kemosha of the Caribbean

Lost Treasures...Caribbean
Isle of Swords
  Natalie's Good Fortune
Nathan Fox: Seas of Blood
Ned's Diary

Nick of Time

Peter Raven Under Fire
The Pirate Captain's Daughter
Sandokan: The Tigers of Mompracem
Sandokan: The Pirates of Malaysia
Sandokan: The King of the Sea
Sandokan: Quest for a Throne
 Tortuga Bay
Two Times a Traitor

Voyage of Plunder
The Voyage of the Sea Wolf

The Barefoot Book of Pirates
The Big Book of Pirates
Inside Access: Pirates
Library of Pirates
Pirates: Facts, Figures & Fun
Pirates Most Wanted
The Queen's Pirate
Real World of Pirates
Ripley's Pirates Believe It or Not!

The Story of Pirates
Swashbuckling Scoundrels


Discovering Pirates
Lost in the Antarctic
Pirate (Eyewitness series)

Pirate Ship
Pirate's Handbook
Pirates (series)
Pirates of the NC Coast
Sea Queens
See-Through Pirates
Sinking the Sultana

Versus: Pirates
The Whydah

You Wouldn't Want to Be a Pirate's Prisoner!

Picture & Activity Books for Pirate Apprentices

The Big Book of Pirates
Blackbeard's Last Fight
Buried Treasure
Escape Game: Pirates

How...be...Pirate...7 Days/Less
How to Build Pirate Ships
Morgan's Revenge (Game)
Jean Laffite

The Pirate Meets the Queen
Pirate Princess ... Fairy Tales
Pirate Things to Make and Do
Pirate's Log
Rhumb Line (Game)

Thaxx (Game)



Baltazar and the Flying Pirates
The Book of Pirates
Inside Out: Pirate Ship
Pirate Adventures
Pirate Diary
Pirate Queen

The Pirates of Scurvy Sands
Pirates, Ships, & Sailors
The Pop-up Book of Ships
The REAL Story of Pirates

The Sinking of the Vasa

Science Fiction & Steampunk

Jack Black...Ship of Thieves
Operation Red Jericho
The Pirate Vortex
Space Pirates

Dread Eagle
Keeper of the Island

The Day the Pirates Went Mad

Cover Art: The Day the
                Pirates Went Mad
The Day the Pirates Went Mad
By Trevor Atkins
Silverpath Publishing, 2021, ISBN 978-1989459027, $11.95
Also available in e-book format

When Emma Sharpe's parents end up in debtors' prison, she's sent to a London orphanage. Labeled a troublemaker, she befriends a sailor whose stories fill her with dreams of adventure and faraway places. She learns that the New Adventure is making ready to depart, so she stows away aboard the vessel.

Hunger drives her to the galley, where the cook takes her to the captain. Seeing something of himself in eleven-year-old Emma, he offers her a choice: work for her passage and join the crew or disembark at their next port of call. Before long, Emma thrives at sea, first as a powder monkey and then an able seaman. By 1702, when circumstances permit, she sends home money to pay down her parents' debt.

New Adventure is not a typical merchant ship. Her blended crew of men, women, and children share in the profits garnered from each voyage. They also do a bit of smuggling and privateering, but never pirating. They form a cohesive unit until Emma stumbles across the sole survivor of a derelict, treasure-laden pirate ship.

Initially, the story unfolds with brief segments of the present interwoven with flashbacks of backstory. Action takes center stage later, especially once Emma happens upon the dying pirate. Geared toward tween readers, this Emma Sharpe Adventure is a story of modern inclusivity set in the past. This isn't historically correct, but it allows readers to better identify with the characters, each of whom has a particular strength. The piratical elements are true to history, and the author includes a glossary and website where teaching resources can be found. The Day the Pirates Went Mad is a good introduction to life at sea and is written in a manner that makes the Age of Sail more interesting to today's young readers.

Review Copyrighted ©2021 Cindy Vallar
Originally reviewed for Historical Novels Review

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Tell No Tales

Cover Art: Tell No Tales
Tell No Tales: Pirates of the Southern Seas
By Sam Maggs and Kendra Wells
Amulet Books, 2021, ISBN 978-1-4197-3966-8, US $21.99 / CAN $27.99 / UK £15.99

While plundering the Caribbean, La Sirene barely escapes an encounter with a fearsome machine that navigates the sea belching black smoke. Captain Anne Bonny and her crew – Mary Read (the quartermaster and Anne’s current lover), Kati (gunner and Miskitu refugee), Mimba (navigator and maroon), and Sarah (healer and rich girl of mixed parentage) – refuse to allow this newcomer to thwart their pillaging. They sight a Spanish galleon, but before they can attack, the monstrous steamship reappears. When Mary catches a glimpse of its captain, she warns Anne to flee. They seek the safety of the galleon, even though the Spanish don’t take kindly to pirates.

Knowing La Sirene is no match for this new enemy that seems to be stalking them, Anne sets sail for Jamaica. Once on the island, Mary reveals what she knows – the man targeting them is the ghost of Woodes Rogers, a man who made a pact with the devil. This revelation is confirmed when Calico Jack Rackham, Anne’s former lover whom they meet at a Jamaican tavern, reveals that pirates are vanishing in large numbers.

Never one to turn tail and run, Anne is determined to put an end to this new enemy. But how? A vision reveals there is a way, but to succeed the Sirens must display bravery, cunning, conviction, strength, and kindness. Of course, nothing is as simple as it seems and the best laid plans always go awry, as Anne and her Sirens soon discover.

Set in the Caribbean in 1715, this graphic novel is loosely based on history and, if readers can suspend disbelief, an intriguing divergence from the normal Anne Bonny-Mary Read story. The drawbacks here as regards Woodes Rogers as the villain are that he is very much alive in 1715 – he doesn’t die until 1732 – and has returned to London from a voyage to Madagascar, rather than being in the Caribbean. Another negative element to the story is that it glorifies piracy to some degree. There are also a few confusing situations where readers have to infer what transpires.

Before the members of the crew are introduced, it’s difficult to determine whether the graphics portray females or males, and that may be the intent since Maggs and Wells “wanted to reclaim some of our lost history – the history of women and non-binary and queer folks that must have existed, but has been hidden or kept quiet.” (157) Therein lies the value of this retelling. This is the story of individuals who are marginalized and/or shunned by society. They want acceptance for who they are, rather than what society wants them to be.


Review Copyrighted ©2021 Cindy Vallar

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Escape Game

Cover Art: Escape Game: Pirates
Escape Game: Pirates
By Eric Nieudan
Illustrated by Margot Briquet
Schiffer Kids, 2020, ISBN 978-0-7643-6008-4, US $16.99

You awake to find yourself all alone on a ship in the middle of the sea. You have no memory of what happened. Where is the captain? What became of your mates?

That is the premise of this combination adventure, mystery, puzzle book. Written for pirate apprentices between the ages of eight and twelve, it’s up to you to unravel clues, decipher secret messages, and wend your way through the ship to gather the information you need to answer those questions.

This book actually consists of two volumes, one bound inside the other. The main book contains the puzzles and pictures, as well as several pages of answers, while the clue book contains objects and information needed during the course of this adventure. The main book also contains several pages for note-taking and list-making.

While the idea for this book is tantalizing, the translation doesn’t always work. According to the instructions at the beginning of the book, you are alone on the ship. This is a fallacy, because there are others aboard. The fact that one may be a traitor is downplayed, rather than emphasized, which made me wonder why this was important to the story. Checkmarks throughout the book are supposed to alert readers that these objects are important, but I only found one such marking and by the time I did, I’d forgotten what the purpose of the checkmark was. The page numbers are so small that they are difficult to read. Although the artwork is great and fits the mood of the story, the subdued coloring makes it difficult to find essential items. For example, the trap doors at the end of one maze are barely visible. Another problem is that some numbers hidden in the page illustrations are brown on brown or black on black, which makes them difficult or impossible to locate. (If you’re wondering, I have 20/20 vision and was sitting directly under a bright light and still haven’t found one or two of the numbers.) Assumptions are also made that readers will know what a particular item is, such as in the pantry where the food and other items are strewn about, or that they understand foreign words, for one puzzle uses a French number rather than its English equivalent. A few clues were so cryptic or lacking sufficient detail, I couldn’t solve them and there is at least one place where the stated solution on the answer pages can’t possibly be correct because the number of letters in the clue and the answer don’t match.

If children enjoy this book, they may be disappointed that its format really only allows them to solve the mystery once. Another format, such as a spiral-bound or loose-leaf book with laminated pages, might have allowed them to erase their answers and solve the mystery again and again. Another reason the format is an issue is that some text and illustrations on the double-page spreads are lost in the book’s binding. For example, where one maze crosses the center between one page and the next, there’s no way to tell if the path through the maze is open or blocked.

One final caution to consider is how adept pirate apprentices are at unraveling puzzles. If they are easily frustrated or have short attention spans, this book may not be a treasure they will enjoy.

Akin to role playing games, for which the author is a specialist, this book requires readers to explore, investigate, and maneuver not only the ship and the sea, but also the intricate details of the illustrations. A sharp mind and excellent eyesight are essential, and while the instructions don’t mention the need for a magnifying glass and good lighting, some pirate apprentices may find these as essential as the compass and other tools found on a ship.

In spite of these issues, I enjoyed the majority of the book. The puzzles and mazes are fun and somewhat challenging. It is a book that most pirate apprentices will not complete in a single sitting, which is why those blank pages are a good inclusion so you don’t forget what you’ve found once you’re able to return to the mystery. Although aimed at pirate apprentices, full-fledged adult pirates who like puzzles will find challenges and have fun deciphering and unraveling these.

Look inside the book

Review Copyrighted ©2020 Cindy Vallar

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Swashbuckling Scoundrels
Cover Art: Swashbuckling Scoundrels
Swashbuckling Scoundrels: Pirates in Fact and Fiction
By Arie Kaplan
Twenty-first Century Books, 2015, ISBN 978-1-4677-5252-7, $33.32
e-book ISBN 978-1-4677-5253-4, $50.65

Written for ages ten to eighteen, this seventy-two-page book explores real-life pirates and compares them to their fictional counterparts in literature and pop culture. Kaplan opens with the 1696 account of Henry Avery’s audacious trade of the treasure-laden Ganj-i-Sawa’i with the governor of the Bahamas, but Swashbuckling Pirates explores the history of pirates from ancient times to the present.

The book is divided into an introduction (“Of Fools and Freebooters”) and four chapters. “Scourge of the Seas” presents the early history of pirates around the world from the earliest known pirates, the Sea Peoples of the Mediterranean (circa 1200 BCE), to the wakō of eastern Asia (1200s to mid 1500s). “The Golden Age of Piracy” begins with an explanation of legal piracy and European exploration of the New World in the sixteenth century. Kaplan briefly mentions Sea Dog Sir Francis Drake and the buccaneers, before focusing on Captain William Kidd, pirate life after the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1714), slaves, and black pirates. Particular emphasis is given to Blackbeard, Anne Bonny, and Mary Read. “From Sabers to Rocket Launchers” looks at piracy after the Golden Age. It covers the Barbary pirates, Cheng I Sao, a Great Lakes pirate, Somali piracy, and the current resurgence of piracy in Asian waters. The final chapter (“Pop Culture Pirates”) explores pirate imagery in our daily lives and the evolution of piratical portrayals in books, movies, and television from 1713 to today. It concludes with a brief discussion of how society romanticizes these criminals.

In addition to the narrative, the book is filled with captioned pictures (artistic portrayals of pirates, maps, and artifacts in B&W and color) and the piratical theme is carried through from the first page to last. Parchment-like boxes spread throughout the book provide historical tidbits, such as William Fly’s execution, pirate queen Grace O’Malley, digital piracy, and the comic strip Terry and the Pirates. Period quotes are also highlighted in red lettering. The book includes source notes, a glossary, a selected bibliography, a list of books, websites, and films where readers can go for further information, and an index.

This book is easy to read and the narrative flows from one section to the next. It is a fair portrayal of factual and fictional piracy, and Kaplan makes a clear distinction between the “noble, heroic, lovable, even comic” pirate of fiction and the “dangerous and sometimes bloodthirsty” pirates throughout history. The material is current and includes mention of recent news items and films, including Captain Phillips, as well as the forthcoming release in 2017 of the next installment of The Pirates of the Caribbean series. What is surprising is the short-shrift given to the buccaneers, and no mention is made of Sir Henry Morgan, who is often called the greatest of these. Some of the text used in the world map (pages 12-13) isn’t very legible in the e-book version. Also, some picture placement is questionable. For example, instead of placing the painting of Stephen Decatur fighting the Barbary pirates in the section on the Barbary Wars, it’s placed in the middle of the text on Cheng I Sao. The screenshot of Tom Hanks in Captain Phillips appears in the middle of the section dealing with television pirates, rather than with the section discussing the movie itself. The inclusion of a summary might have helped to make the ending seem less abrupt.

The price of this book may put it out of the reach of many young adults. The steep e-book price is actually a multi-user license intended for use in educational settings. Amazon does offer a $16.99 version of the e-book, but it’s only formatted for use on Kindles. Swashbuckling Scoundrel makes a highly recommended and worthy resource for any school or public library where the library binding will make the hardcover stand up to years of use.

Review Copyrighted ©2015 Cindy Vallar

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Ripley's Pirates Believe It or Not!
Cover Art: Ripley's Pirates
                    Believe It or Not!
Ripley’s Pirates Believe It or Not!
By Camilla de la Bedoyere
Illustrated by John Graziano
Ripley Publishing, 2015, ISBN 978-1-60991-139-3, US $12.95 / CAN $14.95

Within the pages of this book young pirates can learn all kinds of facts about piracy. Colorful double-page spreads cover a wide array of topics from famous pirates throughout history and around the world to how to be a scurvy dog and life aboard a pirate ship.

The opening pages explain what readers will find inside the book. First, there’s a table of contents followed by explanations of what to look for. Each entry contains a brief explanation, then young pirates can explore the various circles, inkblots, rectangles, and diagrams that contain more information.
Big Word Alerts identify important words and their definitions.

Ripley’s Believe It or Not! messages alert readers to amazing facts, feats, and other “wow!” items. (My favorites are the pirate ship sculpture that is smaller than the eye of a needle, the Floridian who built a home theater that looks like the inside of a pirate ship, and the father who waved his teenage soon off to school each morning wearing a costume, over 170 of them in all.)

Key Facts provide pertinent information about what’s pictured.

Twist It! columns highlight unbelievable facts about pirates.

Lingo scrolls give examples of words to use on International Talk Like a Pirate Day. (There are also suggestions for creating your own pirate outfit.)

Ripley Explains . . . boxes include pertinent information from pirate experts.
The book also includes a pirate newspaper with a few pirate facts, but mostly tongue-in-cheek advertisements.

There are some questionable choices included in the book. The Golden Age of Pirates pages include a square-rigged ship with three masts even though the label says that many pirates sailed sloops, which are much smaller vessels with fore-and-aft sails. Why the Mary Celeste is pictures is puzzling since pirates have never been connected to the merchant ship whose crew disappeared. The fact that sailors sometimes referred to casks of rum as “Nelson’s blood” would only have occurred after 1805 when Admiral Nelson was killed during the Battle of Trafalgar, long after the Golden Age of Pirates.

There are a few errors, too. Fiibustier should be spelled flibustier. Henry Morgan was the lieutenant-governor rather than the governor of Jamaica. A frigate carried, at most, fifty guns instead of the ninety guns mentioned under “Types of Sailing Ships.” Rather than being placed in bird-like cages while alive, captured pirates were placed in iron cages after they were dead and these were made to fit their corpses.

Ripley’s Pirates is part of the Twist series, because sometimes readers have to twist the book around to read some of the information. Overall, this hardback book is a treasure trove of trivia and facts about pirates from ancient times to present day. Young pirates aged seven to eleven will enjoy exploring all the pages.

Review Copyrighted ©2015 Cindy Vallar

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Privateer's Apprentice
Cover Art: Privateer's Apprentice
Privateer’s Apprentice
By Susan Verrico
Peachtree, 2012, ISBN 978-1-56145-633-8, $15.99
The unexpected deaths of his mother and father turn young Jameson Martin Cooper’s life upside down. He’s swindled out of the print shop where he expected to step into his father’s shoes, then he’s turned out on the street with nowhere to go. When a baker accuses him of stealing, Jameson ends up on the auction block to serve out his sentence as an indentured servant. Sent on an errand by his new master, he is waylaid by a scurvy fellow who knocks him out. When he awakens, he is no longer in Charles Towne. He’s aboard a ship belonging to the notorious Attack Jack, a privateer captain on a secret mission for Queen Anne. With Jameson’s knowledge of the printing trade, the captain can complete his assignment. But not everyone aboard the vessel is happy with Jameson joining the crew. Nor are the Spanish thrilled with Attack Jack sailing in their waters. Then there’s a little matter about the legality of his letter of marque.

Set in what is now Charleston, South Carolina and on the high seas, Privateer’s Apprentice is a first-person account of Jameson’s adventures aboard the privateer.  I was intrigued with the author giving him an important skill that’s often overlooked in tales of pirates and privateers – map making. The minor characters, however, are a bit stereotypical, and the tale never quite reaches the level of excitement and suspense middle readers might expect. Those children seeking a less audacious escapade than can be found in books like the Jacky Faber series, or those who want a quick read that permits them to flee the modern world, may enjoy this book.
Read an excerpt
Learn more about the author
View the teacher's guide

Review Copyrighted ©2012 Cindy Vallar
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Rootbeer Beard
Cover Art:
              Rootbeer Beard
Rootbeer Beard: A Pirate’s Story
Stephen Butterman
Bellissima Publishing, 2012, ISBN 978-1-61477-055-8, $8.95
Dolly and Roger Mercer happily await the arrival of their baby daughter, Mersadece. Until Dr. Storkenstein arrives with news that old, reliable Stan the Stork accidently delivered their baby to the Jolly Dodger, a pirate ship “captained by the mean and fearless Captain Weirdbeard.” (9) The Mercers refuse to give up on their little girl and vow to travel all the seas until they find her.

Meanwhile on the Jolly Dodger, Eagle-Eye Ed is the first to spot the baby. Stewey the cook quickly whisks her below before Captain Weirdbeard finds her. Soon she has most of the pirates at her beck and call, and she displays a particular knack at doing a required pirate skill – plundering Captain Weirdbeard’s hoard of rum and root beer. She so loves the soda that she develops a beard from its froth, which earns her the name of “Rootbeer Beard.”

But one pirate, Mopsy isn’t enamored with Rootbeer Beard because he’s relegated to cleaning up all of her messes. While Mopsy connives to get rid of her, Captain Weirdbeard discovers a shortage in his private stash and he intends to punish the guilty culprit!

Rootbeer Beard is a chapter book for young pirates or for adults to read aloud to them. It’s filled with humor and adventure, as well as unexpected twists and turns. Although a copy-editor with sight as keen as Eagle-Eye Ed would have been advisable, this charming pirate tale about two special types of families is great fun and a delight to share.
Watch the book trailer
Review Copyrighted ©2012 Cindy Vallar
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Jean Laffite
Cover Art: Jean Laffite
Jean Laffite: The Pirate Who Saved America
Susan Goldman Rubin
Illustrated by Jeff Himmelman
Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2012, ISBN 978-0-8109-9733-2, US$18.95 / CAN$21.95 / £11.99
Growing up in Saint-Domingue (now Haiti), Jean Laffite dreams of becoming a pirate. His grandmother, however, frowns on such ideas, preferring he and his brother, Pierre, study and help others through writing. She also tells them stories about how Spain persecuted the family because of their Jewish faith. Once the boys turn eighteen, they join their older brother, Alexander, on his privateering voyages. Thus begins the story of the gentleman pirate who would one day help General Andrew Jackson defend New Orleans against the British.
This isn’t a complete retelling of Laffite’s life, for it ends with his pardon from President Madison in 1815. Rubin includes a lengthy author’s note that discusses what came after that time. She includes a bibliography of books and articles, most of which are geared toward adults, but a few are marked as being of interest to older children. She also lists several places to visit to learn more, although Grand Terre does require special permission to visit, a fact she fails to mention. An short index provides easy access to key points in the book, which is forty-seven pages in length.
The fabulous artwork brings the story to life and the artist’s rendering of Laffite bears a close resemblance to the image most people recognize of him. Of particular interest is a paragraph on the final page of the book that explains how Himmelman creates is his paintings.
All in all, this is an appealing volume on Jean Laffite that is written for children. The biggest problem with narrative, however, is that it’s presented as biography, which means what it contains is factual. In reality, at least part of it is legend and unverifiable information. There is no evidence that Laffite or his family were Jewish and it is unlikely that Alexander, more commonly known as Dominique You, was his brother. One of the sources Rubin consulted was The Journal of Jean Laffite, which was not actually written by him even though it is attributed to him. While Jean Laffite, Gentleman Rover was written by a respected historian, Stanley Clisby Arthur used that and other documentary evidence that cannot be authenticated.
For pirate apprentices who want to read a story about Jean Laffite, this book does a good job. If, however, a biography is sought, I recommend looking elsewhere.
Teaching and Discussion Guide
Visit the author

Review Copyrighted ©2012 Cindy Vallar

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The Curse of Captain LaFoote
Cover Art: The Curse of Captain LaFoote
The Curse of Captain LaFoote
By Eddie Jones
Port Yonder Press, 2011, ISBN 9781935600046, US$9.95 / CAN $12.95
Also available as an e-book
An awkward ninth grader who dreams of being captain of a sailing ship, Ricky Bradshaw spends Christmas Eve alone. Mom, a trucker, must haul a load to Memphis. Since the pizza delivery guy always goes to the wrong building, Ricky waits outside for him. Suddenly sirens fill the air and fire engines and police cars drive into the parking lot. His apartment building is on fire! Unable to return home, Ricky climbs aboard the replica of a three-hundred-year-old sailing vessel docked nearby. A mutt named Barnacle steals his pizza, but soon ends up in the river. When Ricky tries to save the dog, he suffers an epileptic seizure. After he awakens, he assumes Paco, a fisherman, rescued him until he realizes something is amiss. He’s in the Caribbean instead of the Chesapeake Bay, the year is 1700, his father is alive, and a pirate ship is fast approaching.
Ricky soon finds himself amid the pirates on their ship. When Captain LaFoote threatens to toss Barnacle overboard, Ricky offers his life for the dog’s. Just as he’s about to meet his fate, a prize is sighted and the pirates prepare for battle. During this reprieve, Ricky makes the acquaintance of the ship’s doctor and his assistant, Beckwith. He soon discovers that the lad isn’t a lad at all. Beckwith is actually Rebecca and she’s on her way to visit her uncle, the governor of one of the Caribbean islands. To get there, she must escape from the pirate ship and enlists Ricky’s help to do so. While the pirates try to evade the trap the merchant ship lured them into, Ricky, Rebecca, and Barnacle escape from LaFoote. But no sooner do they escape one enemy, but they find themselves surrounded by new ones. Once LaFoote discovers the secret Barnacle hides, he and his men are also on their trail.
This enticing, fast-paced adventure has more twists and turns than a roller coaster, but it’s not without some violence both in the present and the past. Ricky is a likable character that many teens will identify with, although after he slips back in time, it’s unclear whether the dreamlike transitions from one place to another are because of his epilepsy or an ability to move through time. If the latter, his epilepsy seems to disappear once he’s with the pirates.
This is the first volume in the Caribbean Chronicles trilogy, and the author does a fabulous job of bringing the beauty and the danger of the islands to life and intricately weaving pirate lore into the story. Since Ricky has epilepsy, a few “pieces of eight” will be donated from the sale of each book to the Epilepsy Foundation. Although written for boys, other fans of pirate adventures will also enjoy the journey.
View the book trailers, listen to an interview
Review Copyrighted ©2012 Cindy Vallar

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The Big Book of Pirates
Cover Art: The Big Book of Pirates
The Big Book of Pirates
By Joan and Albert Vinyoli
Sterling, 2011, ISBN 978-1-4027-8056-1, US $12.95 / CAN $14.95
Originally published in Spain, this translation is a collection of eleven abridged pirate stories and two poems adapted for young pirates and pirate apprentices. It contains authors well known to English-speaking audiences – Lord Byron, Joseph Conrad, Howard Pyle, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and Daniel Defoe – as well as several authors from other parts of the word – José de Espronceda, Emilio Salgari, and Soledad Acosta de Samper – and two less familiar authors, William Hope Hodgson of England and W. Clark Russell of the United States. The tales included are:  
  • “The Corsair”
  • “La Cancion del Pirata” (The Song of the Pirate)
  • The Rover
  • The Black Corsair
  • The Queen of the Caribbean
  • The Vengeance of a Helmsman
  • Blackbeard
  • The Blighting of Sharkey
  • The Ghost Pirates
  • Captain Singleton
  • Pirates of the Spanish Caribbean
  • Captain Scarfield
  • The Frozen Pirate
The book also includes a glossary of ship terms, types of boats, and crew; a gallery of pirates; and author biographies.
The cover incorporates a cut-out in the image of a treasure chest viewed from the side that exposes the first of Xosé Tomás’s dark and brooding illustrations. These add an element of realism to the stories. A few of the tales lack the excitement one might expect, but the uniqueness of the collection allows readers to overlook this and savor the yarns, many of which are rarely found in collections for English-speaking pirates. My favorites, which include unexpected twists, are Conrad’s The Rover, Salgari’s The Black Corsair, Doyle’s The Blighting of Sharkey, and Pyle’s Captain Scarfield. Do you dare to step inside?
Review Copyrighted ©2011 Cindy Vallar

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Terra Vonnel & the Skulls of Aries
Cover Art: Terra
            Vonnel & the Skull of Aries
Terra Vonnel & the Skulls of Aries
By D. C. Akers
Vanquisher Publishing, 2010, ISBN 9780984587100, $8.95

When Terra Vonnel was five years old, someone murdered her mother. Her father has diligently searched for the Skulls of Aries so he can time travel into the past to prevent his wife’s death. Two years ago he fell ill, and ever since Terra has taken over his search. She’s already retrieved the first Skull of Aries, but Count Dragos, a vampire with special skills, and his fellow vampire pirates, have stolen the second one. Terra and her fellow mates, including the Sea Ghouls (phantoms who man the oars of her galley, the Aspen), track them down and after a heated battle that requires brains as well as brawn, she succeeds in acquiring the skull. Having both objects and uncovering their secrets is but the next step in achieving her goal. There’s still a host of creatures and challenges to tackle, and each proves deadlier than the last. How much will Terra, her pirates, and the Sea Ghouls sacrifice to recover the device that will allow her to carry out her father’s wishes?
Aimed at young teenagers, Terra Vonnel & the Skull of Aries is a fast-paced adventure filled with elements of horror and fantasy without being too graphic in the violence. A few word choices may confuse readers (bellowing clouds for billowing clouds or incitation for incantation), but these are minor points. The book is intended to be the first in a series, so some readers may be a bit disappointed in the story’s ending. Others will eagerly await the next chapter in Terra’s quest.

Special Note: As of November 13th the author and publisher have corrected the confusing word choices.
Review Copyrighted ©2010 Cindy Vallar

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Scratch Kitten on the Pirate's Shoulder
Cover Art: Scratch Kitten on Pirate's Shoulder
Scratch Kitten on the Pirate’s Shoulder
By Jessica Green
Illustrated by Mitch Vane
Little Hare, 2008, ISBN 978-1-921272-45-5, AUS $10.99 / UK £3.99 / NZ $12.99 / US $ 6.99
After Peg-leg puts a mouse in the captain’s soup, he and Scratch find themselves floating at sea in a dinghy. Being rescued by pirates doesn’t sit well with Scratch, for the ship isn’t shipshape or tidy, but as long as they work, they can stay aboard. A culinary genius, Peg-leg replaces the current cook, so being a kitten, Scratch decides he’s best suited to catch mice. But that doesn’t please the pirate captain because mice remind him of his sweetheart back home.
The job Scratch really wants is the one Squawk, the pirate’s parrot, has – sitting on the captain’s shoulder. How difficult can that be? Plus Squawk doesn’t really want the job, so Scratch suggests to the parrot that he’s really a seagull. When that doesn’t work, perhaps Squawk is a carrot. Only Scratch’s quick thinking diverts disaster, saving Squawk from becoming part of the evening stew. Perhaps he should make a secret nest and find a girlfriend, which is perfect – well almost.  Once again Scratch comes to Squawk’s rescue, but will it earn him a place on the captain’s shoulder? And is that really where Scratch wants to be?
This chapter book is a hilarious series of mishaps that engage the reader. The pirates are a motley crew, and the captain’s dependence on Squawk, the parrot’s reluctance at his perch, and Scratch’s determination to take his place make for some head-shaking, riotous capers that leave young pirates in training wondering what will happen next. And the final outcome isn’t at all what is expected. Vane’s black-and-white drawings help bring the characters to life and perfectly depict the comedy of errors that make up this pirate tale.
Visit the Illustrator
Review Copyrighted ©2010 Cindy Vallar

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The Pirate Vortex
Cover Art: The Pirate Vortex
The Pirate Vortex
By Deborah Cannon

Trafford, 2009, ISBN #978-1-4269-0532-2, CAN $20.03
Elizabeth Latimer – scuba diver, multi-linguist, sailor, telepathic with animals, and fencer extraordinaire! Oh, and a reluctant pirate hunter. She vowed never to follow in her father’s footsteps, but when her mother, Tess, disappears while on a dive exploring the wreck of Calico Jack Rackham’s Curlew, Elizabeth has no choice in the matter. Especially once a mysterious, but cute, guy named Daniel Corker keeps popping up to entice her with his strange and mysterious ways.
With the help of her younger sister, Lulu, Elizabeth discovers that Tess uncovered a love letter from Calico Jack to Anne Bonny and has travelled back to the early 18th century. In doing so, she upset the time continuum and unless Elizabeth can set things aright, she and her sister will cease to exist. Accompanying her on her travel through the vortex is Jerrit Wang, a teaching assistant at the University of Victoria, Canada, who teaches Elizabeth’s Archaeology of Piracy class, and her piratical parrot, CJ (short for Calico Jack). Lulu remains behind to assist and communicates with her sister through an iPocket.
Finding her mother proves something of a challenge, especially since Tess doesn’t want to be found. She has her own mission – locate her husband, whom everyone assumes is dead. Nor does Elizabeth have much better luck with Calico Jack, who thinks she’s a witch and prefers drinking to pirating. Plus, there’s the little problem of Anne being a prisoner of Governor Woodes Rogers, who insists Anne reunite with her husband, James Bonny. Not to mention that Anne is peeved with Rackham for two-timing her. If that isn’t enough trouble to deal with, Charles Vane wants revenge because his former quartermaster marooned him.
If you can suspend belief and allow for the stray literary license with history, such as Governor Rogers’ home, this crazy-sounding plot is a rousing adventure with more twists and turns than a boa constrictor. Interlaced with the history and fiction are emotions and reactions with which most young adults readers will identify: humor, love, frustration, exasperation, wariness, and trust. Aficionados of science fiction may object to some plot devices, such as an iPocket being usable in 18th-century New Providence, because no reasonable explanations are given as to why these violate scientific realities. That CJ and Elizabeth have established a bond that allows them to communicate telepathically works for me, but believing she can do so with a horse she’s never encountered before asked a bit much. I think the most disturbing aspect about the story, however, was Tess and her nonchalance at leaving behind two children, albeit one who’s in college and somewhat independent, without adult supervision. Even so, I enjoyed this quirky cross between historical and science fiction.

Review Copyrighted ©2010 Cindy Vallar

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Pirates: Scourge of the Sea

Cover Art: Pirates:
              Scourge of the Sea
By John Reeve Carpenter
Sterling, 2008, 978-1-4027-6311-3, US $9.95, CAN $10.95

Pirates primarily focuses on piracy in the early eighteenth century, the golden age, but also incorporates other time periods. The intent is to separate myth from reality. Chapter one delves into the history from ancient times through the 1800s. The next chapter examines what life was like on a pirate ship, from the social structure to the code of conduct to living conditions at sea. Chapter three discusses battle tactics and weaponry, while the following chapter concentrates on types of ships, jolly rogers, and pirate attire. The last chapter presents a who’s who of pirates, beginning with the Barbarossa brothers and ending with Cheng I Sao. The book also includes four appendices: pirate superstitions, pirate legends, fictional pirates, and pirate lore. There is a glossary, but no index.

This is a beautifully designed book with wonderful pictures that capture the imagination or skillfully illustrate a particular feature in the text. The pages are the color of parchment and give the impression of aged documents. The fearsome cover art draws the eye and the sturdy binding will stand much abuse.

The information is well organized, neatly arranged, and absorbing to read. This is classified as a reference book, but the lack of an index makes it difficult to find specific information without paging through the book. While the majority of material presented in Pirates is a treasure trove, there are several nuggets of inaccuracy. For example, jealousy over Cheng I Sao’s choice of husband wasn’t the reason for the demise of her pirate confederation. She didn’t remarry until after she retired from piracy. A few historians claim Lauren de Graff was black, but most dispute this claim and there is no proof to verify the color of his skin. Keelhauling was a form of punishment, but not one pirates of the golden age used. It was primarily implemented by navies. The reason for the large number of men on a pirate ship wasn’t to replace crewmembers who died from sickness or injury, but rather they were needed to man the prize ships the pirates captured. Gambling, while popular, was forbidden by many codes of conduct while on board a pirate ship because of the conflicts that could arise. There is no evidence Blackbeard tortured captives for sport. Privateers weren’t licensed to attack foreign ships, but enemy ships.

Pirates remains a treasure as long as readers don’t rely on it as their sole source of information on piracy.

Review Copyrighted ©2009 Cindy Vallar

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Pirate’s Log: A Handbook for Aspiring Swashbucklers

Cover Art: Pirate's Log
By Jory John and Avery Monsen
Illustrated by Gilbert Ford
Chronicle Books, 2008, ISBN 978-0-8118-6435-0, $15.95

Pirates like William Dampier and Lionel Wafer kept journals, so why not you? Pirate’s Log allows you to keep your own journal while learning the ropes of buccaneering and moving up the ranks from Shark-Bait to Captain in twenty-two intriguing steps. One of the first tasks you must accomplish is choosing your pirate name. Among the other topics covered are celestial navigation, knots, hooks and eye patches, flags, hiding treasure, and ARRRR!

This is a scurvy (a good word in this instance) workbook for pirate apprentices. It contains lots of positive feedback and provides ample space for recording “assignments.” A lesson for Spit-Scrubbers seems a bit either out of place or creative (depending on your perspective); it involves drawing how much facial hair one grows during a week. A questionable question in the segment on pirate films is, “Did you see The Da Vinci Code?” I suspect few pirate apprentices watched this PG-13 film.

Humor abounds both in the text and the pictures. One of my favorite involves “X marks the spot.” They provide you with a large “x” to put on your front lawn to see if anyone actually digs for buried treasure. (Apprentices, you may want to check with Captains Mom and Dad before doing this one.) I suspect someone will either do so, or in keeping with a piratical heart, they’ll steal the “x.” One of the most fun exercises concerns sharks. Some are quite comical and naming them is quite a challenge.

This book comes with a rare treasure. The spine contains a working lamp that allows pirate apprentices to study their journals after the lights are turned off. (I do recommend reading the mandatory instruction page before using, so you don’t waste time guessing about how it works.) Pirate’s Log is a grand prize for anyone searching for pirate adventures that are safe and fun, and that allows you to practice your writing skills with pencil and paper.

Review copyrighted © 2008 Cindy Vallar

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The Queen’s Pirate – Francis Drake

Cover Art: The Queen's
By Sarah Courtauld
Illustrated by Vincent Dutrait
EDC Publishing, 2007, ISBN 978079452048-9, US $8.99

Eight-year-old Francis Drake eavesdrops on a conversation between his cousin and uncle. John and William Hawkins are to sail on a new adventure, and Francis yearns to go, but he has much to learn first. When that day arrives, he and John embark for the New World via Africa to acquire a cargo of slaves. Their arrival in the Spain’s Caribbean colonies doesn’t go as planned, and the treachery that transpires has a lasting effect on Drake. His hatred for the Spaniards has no bounds, and with Queen Elizabeth’s secret backing, he becomes not only their worst enemy, but a national hero.

As this chapter book recounts the life of this famous sea dog, the young reader finds himself whisked away on dangerous adventures. It is an excellent introduction to this complicated man. The vibrant and realistic illustrations captivate the eye and bring the tale alive. A map of Drake’s voyages, a recap of his life, and an index enhance the story.

Book Review copyrighted © 2008 Cindy Vallar

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Buried Treasure, a Pirate’s Tale

Cover Art: Buried Treasure
By Carroll Harrison Kehne, Jr.
Cornell Maritime Press, 2007, ISBN 978-0-87033-601-0, $12.95

Captain John Bloodsworth, a notorious pirate of the early 1700s, preys upon unsuspecting ships navigating the Chesapeake Bay. He’s a scurvy fellow who clads himself in fine clothes and loves his jewels and weapons. He and his crew capture an English galley laden with coins of gold and silver, as well as a chest full of gems and jewelry. Once they finish looting the ship, they set her afire and sail for a friendly port. Later, Bloodsworth and several chosen men find the perfect spot to bury their ill-gotten treasure. Then a band of Susquehannocks attack. Have Bloodsworth and his men the luck of scurvy knaves, or be this their last adventure?

Pirate tales set in the Chesapeake Bay are rare finds. Kehne, who writes about the bay, does so to preserve its stories and the environment. He includes a preface to this picture book so readers have a better understanding of the time period and the history. The artwork is finely detailed, but dark and brooding, unlike most picture books. Buried Treasure is also for older children.

Book Review copyrighted © 2008 Cindy Vallar

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Things to Make and Do

Cover Art: Pirate Things to
              Make and Do
By Rebecca Gilpin
Illustrated by Erica Harrison and others
EDC Publishing, 2005, ISBN 978079451061-9, US $6.99

This craft book invites youngsters to try their hands at making various objects related to the world of pirates. The activities include making hats, coins, money bags, telescopes, earrings, eye patches, door signs, flags, collages, rats, finger puppets, treasure chests, cutlass and hook, and cards. One can learn to draw and paint ships, illustrate a man overboard, paint a parrot, or design Jolly Roger paper. Two pages of gold stickers are included for use with the projects.

There are a number of pirate craft books to be found in libraries, but this one does include some activities rarely found elsewhere. My favorite was the finger puppets, which are bigger than most commercial ones. This isn’t a book for the youngest of pirates and, for the most part, some artistic ability is required. The lack of patterns, the elaborateness of some of the drawings, and the difficulty in interpreting some instructions may frustrate young pirates who don’t have adult pirates to help. Another drawback is the absence of a list of items needed to accomplish each activity. In spite of these drawbacks, this book includes unique items that make this worth adding to a collection where arts and crafts are popular.

Book review copyrighted © 2007 Cindy Vallar

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Inside Access: Pirates

Cover Art: Inside
              Access: Pirates
By Philip Steele
Kingfisher, 2007, ISBN 978-0-7534-6061-0, US $9.95

Jake “Rattlebones” Rogers swings in to guide you through the finer points of being a pirate. He explains why honest sailors went on the account, explores the history of piracy, introduces a few of the more notorious pirates, and talks about the vessels they used, their weaponry, and how they acquired booty. He also touches upon what happened to captured pirates. A glossary and index are included.

Written for young pirates of five to eight years, this book has large type and color pictures to captivate these apprentices. There are flaps to open, maps to unfold, flags to learn, and parts of the ship to memorize. This worthy introduction to piracy, particularly in the Caribbean, teaches that it wasn’t all fun and games. The photographs, mixed with colorful sketches, bring this world and the past to life for young readers.

Meet the Author

Book review copyrighted © 2007 Cindy Vallar

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Cover Art: Warriors
By James Harpur
Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2007, ISBN 978-1-4169-3951-1, US $21.99 / CAN $26.99

Noble is the man who falls in the front line, fighting for his native land.
-- Tyrtaeus, Spartan poet*

Throughout history men have trained to be warriors and have given their lives to defend their homelands, and sometimes to conquer new territories. Within the pages of this oversize book reminiscent of John Matthews’ Pirates, young readers meet warriors of the past: Assyrians, Spartans, Alexander the Great and the Macedonians, Celts, Romans, Gladiators, Vikings, Samurai, Ninja, Genghis Khan and the Mongols, Medieval Knights, Aztecs, and Zulus.

The adventure begins when you open the front cover. Inside is a full-color poster depicting each warrior in traditional garb and armed with the weaponry of his time period. The double-page spreads are in full color on glossy, heavy paper that will survive many readings. The pages combine text with artifacts, maps, weapons, and spotlights for each group of fighters. Some pages also have fold-outs, tabs to pull, and two groups are found behind the closed gates of their fortresses. The Vikings include a three-dimensional image of a longship, while the Ninja have cards depicting stealth tactics and the Medieval Knights have cards shaped like shields that depict symbols associated with these warriors. The timeline at the end of the book begins with 753 B.C. when Rome was founded, and ends in 1879 when the British defeated the Zulus.

The details, writing, and illustrations provide a gripping introduction to warriors throughout history and the world. Although written for children ages 3-6, adults will find this book just as rewarding and absorbing. Warriors will bring hours of fun and learning for the whole family, and in the process spark interest in exploring each and every one of these warriors further.

*The dates given for this poet are circa 685-68 B.C. This would mean he lived 617 years, which I doubt. It is the only error I found in the text.

Book review copyrighted © 2007 Cindy Vallar

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To Catch a Pirate

Cover Art: To Catch a Pirate
By Jade Parker
Point, 2007, ISBN 978-0-439-02694-9, US $6.99

Annalisa Townsend accompanies her father to Mourning, a Caribbean island where her will be governor. Before they arrive, pirates attack their ship. One of the pirates finds her, but she barters a diamond ring for his silence. James Sterling also steals a kiss, before the pirates return to the Phantom Mist and sail away. When her father is jailed for being in league with the pirates, who stole the treasure the king had trusted to his keeping, Annalisa vows vengeance.

One year later, James prowls the streets of New Orleans in search of a ship. With him is Ferret, a one-armed pirate whom Captain Crimson Kelly marooned with James upon discovering that James hadn’t been as forthright as he should have about the treasure below deck on the merchant ship. Ferret, whose pockets are empty, betrays James to a notorious pirate hunter named Annalisa Townsend.

With the help of the Nathaniel Northrup, one of the officers aboard the merchant ship when the pirates attacked, Annalisa intends to track down Crimson Kelly and retrieve the treasure chest he took from her father. She will do whatever is necessary to achieve her goal, which is why she captures James Sterling. He’s the only one who knows the location of Kelly’s secret hiding place, but will he cooperate?

James, too, has a single-minded purpose– to steal the Phantom Mist from Kelly and become a pirate captain. What he hasn’t calculated on is Annalisa’s effect on him. To complicate matters, Nathaniel is in love with her, too, and while their prisoner, James finds himself on the receiving end of various punishments ordered by Nathaniel. Then there’s the problem of a forged letter of marque and a spy within their ranks. Will Annalisa and James achieve their goals? Who will win Annalisa’s heart? Is Nathaniel willing to destroy James to win Annalisa? Can they trust James, or will he set a trap that betrays them while rescuing Kelly, the first person to ever care about him?

The author makes a few minor errors that may prevent the reader from totally believing in this tale. For example, when James instructs Annalisa in the finer points of fighting like a pirate, she agilely maneuvers around the ship’s deck wielding her cutlass while wearing a floor-length gown. In reality, she would probably trip over her skirts and find herself staring up the sharp blade poised at her heart. When a lookout sights land, she sees green mountains in the distance. She would not see this yet, for her horizon differs from his because the lookout can see a greater distance than she can since he’s aloft and she’s on the deck. Nor would Crimson Kelly use a galleon – a cumbersome vessel that was difficult to handle and displaced a lot of water – characteristics that were the opposite of what pirates desired in a ship. It’s also questionable whether she would come face-to-face with the most notorious pirate of the day – Bartholomew Roberts – unless Annalisa acquires her reputation and retrieves the stolen treasure in the time frame allowed, for Roberts was prowling the waters off West Africa by May of 1721.

In spite of these shortcomings, To Catch a Pirate is an intriguing, romantic adventure written for young adults. It is filled with moves and countermoves much like a game of chess. Just when you think you’ve won, one of the characters does something unexpected, turning your conclusion topsy-turvy.

Book review copyrighted © 2007 Cindy Vallar

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Dead Cool

Cover Art: Dead Cool
By Peter Clover
Stone Arch Books, 2005, ISBN 978-1-59889-100-3, US $16.95

Sammy wants a dog, but he and his parents live in a small apartment. Instead they get a parrot, but Polly only squawks. One day after school, though, Sammy hears a strange voice in the apartment and when he looks around, he sees not one parrot, but two! And the second one talks. But Sammy is the only one who sees Crabmeat. The next day Crabmeat comes with a friend – a red cat – and while lying on his bed, Sammy sees a boy sitting in the chair. His name is Smitty. Later eleven more pirates join Smitty, and they have a rousing good time entertaining Sammy until one of them mentions Red Beard the Really Rotten. These aren’t ordinary pirates; they’re ghosts who drowned at sea after mutinying against Red Beard, who’s been chasing them for 250 years.

Sammy’s apartment seems safe enough, so the pirates and their animals hide out there. One day, while his mom cooks breakfast, Crabmeat pipes out a warning: “Shiver me timbers! Ship ahoy! Pieces of eight!” Through the window they see an approaching storm. Sammy’s dad says the bacon tastes like seaweed as the sky darkens. Then there’s a flash of light, and Red Beard the Really Rotten appears at the window. Anger oozes from him in smoke and flames. What’s Sammy to do? Can the pirates escape? Will he save them and his parents? Or will Red Beard finally get his revenge?

Dead Cool starts out as a simple tale about a boy who yearns for a pet. Once he gets his wish, though, Sammy finds himself enmeshed in a mystery he didn’t want to be part of. As astounding as the events seem, they are believable, and the climax builds until it strikes with the force of a hurricane. The solution to escaping Red Beard’s clutches will surprise even the savviest of readers! Like other Stone Arch books, Dead Cool’s reinforced library binding makes certain that this adventure survives many a stormy sea. The discussion questions and writing prompts allow readers to explore the world of pirates in greater depth.

This tale captivates and stirs the imagination, while spicing it with ghostly danger. Great fun and perfect for a dark, stormy night – especially around Halloween!

Fact Hound Pirate Recommendations

Book review copyrighted © 2007 Cindy Vallar

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Blackbeard’s Sword

Cover Art: Blackbeard's
By Liam O’Donnell
Illustrated by Mike Spoor
Stone Arch Books, 2007, ISBN 978-1-59889-309-0, US $17.95

In 1718 Jacob and his father help Lieutenant Maynard hunt for the infamous Blackbeard. They are the pilots and Jacob is supposed to make certain the Jane doesn’t run aground. But he hasn’t come to capture Blackbeard. He’s there to save the notorious pirate, and his lie about the water’s depth forces the ship onto a sandbar.

During the ensuing engagement between the pirates and the navy, Jacob finds himself in the midst of a bloody battle. No longer does he find pirates such great heroes. But can the men of the Jane win the day? Or does Jacob’s lie spell their doom?

A mix between a comic book and a chapter book, this rousing adventure – seen through the eyes of a young lad – shows how we sometimes idealize those we shouldn’t and why. The tale is straightforward and easy to read, while the colorful pictures bring the story to life. The violence is depicted, but never graphic. The glossary provides pronunciations and definitions of words readers may not know. There is a brief historical recap of pirates and Blackbeard, as well as discussion questions and writing prompts that guide children to explore deeper. Blackbeard’s Sword is a melding of fact and fiction that relates a true event in a way children will understand.

Fact Hound Pirate Recommendations

Book review copyrighted © 2007 Cindy Vallar

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Space Pirates

Cover Art: Space Pirates
By David Orme
Stone Arch Books, 2004, ISBN 1-59889-016-6, US $15.95

Todd works in engineering aboard the Nightstar, commanded by Captain Street. While flying through space, the warp engine suddenly stops then restarts. When Todd attempts to shut down the engine to see what’s wrong, he discovers that he can’t. They no longer control the ship’s computer! And they’re headed for the Ghost Nebula – a dangerous place for a spaceship.

Whoever or whatever controls the Nightstar guides it to a planet. Once on the ground they discover they’re in the midst of a pirate haven. Todd keeps watch on the perimeter, while the others look for another ship to use for an escape. Before they can, though, the evil Dr. Drake – head of the pirates – discovers them and takes them prisoner. Can Todd rescue his mates? Will they escape the pirates? Or are they all doomed?

This action-filled tale of pirates in space unfolds in six easy-to-read chapters. It’s an exciting blend of science fiction and nasty villains. With its library reinforced binding, the book will stand up to serious wear and tear. Discussion questions and writing prompts allow readers to explore the story further and to learn more about the solar system.

Fact Hound Pirate and Space Recommendations

Book review copyrighted © 2007 Cindy Vallar

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The Story of Pirates

Cover Art: The Story of
By Rob Lloyd Jones
Illustrated by Vincent Dutrait
EDC Publishing, 2007, ISBN 978-0-7945-1618-5, US $8.99

Part of the Usborne Young Reading series, “which combines good stories with easy reading text,” The Story of Pirates introduces readers to the history of piracy in six chapters. The reader’s journey begins with ancient pirates, which includes those of the Roman Empire, the Vikings, and the Barbary Corsairs. The Golden Age chapter begins with the discovery of the New World then talks about life as a pirate during the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. Chapter three covers pirate attacks from the Jolly Roger to treasure to articles of agreement. “Cruel Captains” discusses l’Ollonais and Blackbeard, while “Pirates Defeated” covers Bartholomew Roberts and William Kidd. The final chapter touches on modern piracy, Asian piracy, and pirates in fiction. The book closes with an annotated list of ten other famous pirates and privateers.

While chapter one is misnamed, since it covers far more than ancient times, it is a good introduction to key pirates of the past. While the author discusses the cruelty meted out on Christian slaves, he fails to mention that Christian corsairs were equally brutal with their treatment of Muslim slaves. There are also some minor errors in the text. For example, Viking longships did not have flat bottoms. When repairing leaks on the hull of a ship, rotten planks were replaced before oakum and tar were applied, as opposed to just stuffing the leaks with old rope and applying tar. Blackbeard wrecked the Queen Anne’s Revenge before he battled Lieutenant Maynard. William Dampier did not maroon Alexander Selkirk; Thomas Stradling did.

Overall, the information presented is easy to read and holds your attention. What adds special panache to the book are the color illustrations. They vividly portray pirates and their lives at sea in a realistic manner. They bring the text to life. The Story of Pirates is a good introduction to pirates for early readers ready for longer books and for reluctant readers. On the last page within the fine print, there is a website where readers can go to learn more about pirates. I’ve included the link below.

Recommended Pirate Links

Book review copyrighted © 2007 Cindy Vallar

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Jack Plank Tells Tales

Cover Art: Jack Plank Tells
by Natalie Babbitt
Scholastic, 2007, ISBN 978-0-545-00496-1, US $15.95 / CAN $19.95

Jack Plank is an out-of-work pirate, not because he is a bad plunderer, but because times are hard and no matter how fond his mates are of him, there is only so much soup to go around. Since he lacks the knack to acquire booty, they have to let him go. He soon finds himself in Saltwash, a small seaport, and Mrs. Delfresno agrees to let him rent a room at her establishment as long as her other boarders get along with him and he finds a job.

During the day, Nina (Mrs. Delfresno’s daughter) helps Jack look for work. At night, everyone gathers around the supper table to eat and discuss the day’s events. Needless to say, one topic of conversation is whether or not Jack has found a job. He would become a farmer, but that requires him to cross a bridge, which he can’t do. When asked why, Jack tells the tale of his friend Lugger who did just that and was accosted by a troll! On successive nights he explains why he can’t be a baker, a fortune teller, a fisherman, a barber, a goldsmith, an actor, or a musician. Eventually, he runs out of possible jobs and knows he must leave. But Nina, her mother, and the others have an idea.

Jack Plank Tells Tales reminds me of those books my sisters and I used to read in the summertime. We’d climb into our bunk beds at the cabin, Mom turned off the lights, and we took turns reading aloud by flashlight from a tome filled with adventures that captured our imaginations and brought wonderful adventures to our dreams. There aren’t any rousing sword fights or intricate puzzles to solve. Rather this children’s book spins a subtle web that snares the reader with strange and fantastic tales. Jack’s reasons for not doing a job are sound, but far different from what you expect. By the time you’ve read one or two chapters, you find yourself wishing the day would pass quicker so you can return to this delightful treasure of stories that whisk you to a simpler time near the sea where magic things happen and problems are easily solved.

Book review copyrighted © 2007 Cindy Vallar

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Treasure Island

Cover Art: Treasure
By Robert Louis Stevenson
Retold by Wim Coleman and Pat Perrin
Illustrated by Greg Rebis
Stone Arch Books, 2007, ISBN 978-1-59889-050-1, US $17.95

Billy Bones, a sea captain who sings of dead men’s chests, resides at the inn Jim Hawkins and his mother run. One night a stranger comes looking for Billy Bones and gives him a message – the black spot! The captain dies suddenly, and in searching his chest for the money owed them, Jim and his mother discover a treasure map. With the help of Dr. Livesey and Mr. Trelawney, Jim sets off to find the treasure. Unbeknownst to these three brave souls, the cook Trelawney hires isn’t to be trusted. He’s none other than Long John Silver, and he and his fellow pirates want the treasure, too. Danger abounds for Jim and his friends, especially once they discover the truth about their shipmates. Who will win the struggle for the buried pirate booty? Will Jim ever see his mother and home again?

In junior high school, my parents gave me a copy of Treasure Island for Christmas. Unlike my sisters, who were very selective in what they read or who rarely read at all, I loved to read, but Stevenson’s book proved a challenge I couldn’t win. Years later, as a school librarian, I met other children like my sisters who were reluctant readers. They introduced me to graphic novels – illustrated classics akin to comic books.

Stone Arch’s tale is just such a tale – a graphic retelling of the classic pirate story, Treasure Island. The brooding darkness that illuminates the illustrations sets the mood. The facial characteristics of the characters exude trust or danger. The dialogue and captions slowly spin their web until the reader is caught in a snare from which there is no escape. Also included at the end of the book are a glossary, background information about sailing ships, discussion questions, and writing prompts. If there is any drawback to this book, it is the price.

Had my parents given me this hardback version of Stevenson’s famous book, I would have read it over and over again. It is a pirate adventure to savor, especially on those dark, stormy nights when the fire sparks and crackles in the hearth and the house creaks as thunder crashes and wind wails. Have you the courage to venture inside the pages of Treasure Island?

Winner of PMA's Ben Franklin Award for Graphic Novels
PMA's Ben Franklin Award for Graphic Novels

Book Review Copyright ©2007 Cindy Vallar

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Pirates: Facts, Figures & Fun

Cover Art: Pirates - Facts,
              Figures & Fun
By Ian Zaczek
ff&f, 2007, ISBN 978-1-904332-67-1, US$5.95, £5.99
(Distributed in the USA and Canada by Sterling Publishing)

Within the pages of this small book, the author explores the realm of piracy during the 16th and 17th centuries, with particular emphasis on their activities in the Caribbean. After a brief introduction to set the stage worldwide, Zaczek interweaves facts with fiction to show readers the truth about such legendary pirates as Avery, Blackbeard, Morgan, Kidd, and many others. He includes notorious women sea rouges, as well as pirate hunters. In the final two chapters, he examines the image pirate of pirates and their place in popular culture. The final page provides a list of recommended books and websites where readers can find more information.*

One thing to keep in mind is that this book is a British publication. This is why many titles mentioned in the last chapter are ones with which Americans probably won’t be familiar. Also, the author uses “pressurised” for “pressured” when talking about how Kidd's men forced him into attacking several vessels. In no way does this detract, though. In fact it provides readers with a refreshing examination of popular culture. Written primarily for teenagers and older children, this book is reminiscent of David Cordingly’s Under the Black Flag.

Information about Blackbeard’s ship, the Queen Anne’s Revenge, was a tad confusing, only because the author fails to provide the original name of the vessel until four pages later and the intervening dates may give the reader pause. The chart on pirate trials says 15 of Blackbeard’s men were tried for piracy, but only provides the outcome for 14 of them.

These are minor issues, though. This book is a fast and entertaining read with oodles of information packed into 94 pages. Its size is about the same as a paperback, so it is easily carried. The chapter on popular culture includes the Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy and Talk Like a Pirate Day. What I particularly liked was the tidbits of information not often found in other pirate books like this. Pirates: Facts, Fiction & Fun is a great introduction to Golden Age piracy and a worthy addition to your collection, especially if you’re looking for a brief overview that will lead you to further exploration.

*It was an honor to find Pirates and Privateers among the sites listed.

Book Review Copyright ©2007 Cindy Vallar

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Pirates Don’t Wear Pink Sunglasses

Cover Art: Pirates Don't
              Wear Pink Sunglasses
By Debbie Dadey and Marcia Thornton Jones
Illustrated by John Steven Gurney
Scholastic, 1994, ISBN 0-590-47298-4, US $3.99 / CAN $5.50

The students of Bailey Elementary School find themselves once again at Camp Lone Wolf. Liza, Melody, Howie, and Eddie are certain their counselor, Mr. Jenkins, is a werewolf. They’re equally sure that they’ll never win the annual boat race against the Sheldon Sharks. Mr. Jenkins, however, has hired a racing coach – Captain Teach, who wears pink sunglasses, has a black beard, and walks around with a talking parrot on his shoulder!

This summer, though, the camp looks even more rundown than it did last time they visited. Before long they discover that this may well be Camp Lone Wolf’s last days – the owners want to sell it to a company that wants to build a mall! No more birds chirping. No more trees swaying. Setting aside their fears, the kids want to prevent the sale, but what can they do?

Then Captain Teach tells them the story of Molly the Red, a fierce pirate who buried her treasure in 1718, and no one has found it to this very day. If Liza, Melody, Howie, and Eddie can find the treasure, they can save the camp. The hunt begins, but they soon discover they aren’t the only ones searching for the hidden booty! Will they find it in time? Will they escape the clutches of the real pirate in their midst? Will Bailey Elementary finally win the boat race?

I confess the title is what caught my attention. Pink sunglasses are about the last thing I would think of when discussing pirates. Yet this wonderful adventure captured my attention from the first page to the last. Number 9 in “The Adventures of the Bailey School Kids,” this book mixes attention-grabbing creatures – like werewolves, pirates, and parrots – with normal everyday kids and activities. The result is a combustible tale of intrigue and humor that will have you smiling and gasping with each new revelation. Perfect for reading aloud while camping or for acting out as a play.

Book Review Copyright ©2007 Cindy Vallar

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Cover Art: Roanoke
Roanoke: The Mystery of the Lost Colony
By Lee Miller
Scholastic, 2007, ISBN 978-0-439-71266-8, US $18.99 / CAN $22.99

In 1584 two English ships, guided by a Portuguese pilot named Simon Fernandez, arrive in the New World. They seek a place to claim for Queen Elizabeth, so that England can acquire the same riches Spain takes from the Caribbean and Spanish Main. The man behind this expedition and others is Sir Walter Raleigh, one of the queen’s favorites who feels the best way to attack Spain is from the sea. After all, Spain, which has the most powerful navy, amasses an armada that will eventually attack England.

The following year, another expedition arrives at Roanoke Island to establish a military base. Sir Richard Grenville befriends the Secotan, while John White draws the people, flora, and fauna found in this country. Grenville had intended to remain here, but seawater damaged their cargo and food, so he returns home. Ralph Lane refuses to go with him. He remains behind to build the fort. He also wages war against the Indians, for he believes he will find gold and silver where the Secotan acquire their copper.

Overcrowding in London and the beauty and serenity of the New World convince John White to establish a colony along Chesapeake Bay. With Raleigh’s backing and the queen’s blessing, he and 117 men, women, and children set sail in 1587 to establish a new home. Among the passengers are his pregnant daughter and son-in-law, Eleanor and Ananias Dare. Misfortune plagues the voyage almost from the start and their pilot, Simon Fernandez, refuses to take them to Chesapeake Bay. Instead he deposits them at Roanoke Island, a dangerous place because of Lane’s treatment of the Indians.

Fernandez’s refusal to acquire the needed food and supplies to survive the winter forces White to sail to England after the birth of his granddaughter, Virginia Dare, the first white person born in this New World. Once there, though, circumstances prevent him from returning for three years. Why doesn’t White return in time to save his family and friends? Why did Fernandez sabotage the voyage at every opportunity? Who hates White enough to endanger the lives of 117 innocent people? Or is someone else the actual target and White and the colonists are merely a convenient means to bring about that person’s ruin? What happens to the colonists and what does the message “Croatoan” mean?

Although pirates play only a peripheral part in the story of the Lost Colony, people like Walter Raleigh and Queen Elizabeth are names well known to those who follow the Sea Dogs who preyed on Spanish treasure ships and towns in the sixteenth century. Written for older children, anyone will find this narrative of the events surrounding the founding of the colony and the colonists’ subsequent disappearance fascinating. Ms. Miller incorporates information from primary documents and asks probing questions that allow readers to attempt to unravel the mystery as they read the book. While definitive answers aren’t available, the colonists and others left clues to follow and the narrative provides readers with a logical and comprehensive understanding of the circumstances and people who played a role in what happened. Paintings, drawings, and photographs, including White’s sketches, enhance the story and make it more real for the reader. Roanoke: The Mystery of the Lost Colony is a fascinating look into the past and an engrossing examination of an unsolved mystery.

Learn more about Roanoke
Roanoke Revisited -- curriculum unit
The Lost Colony Center

Book Review Copyright ©2007 Cindy Vallar

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Cover Art: Piratepedida
By Alisha Niehaus and Alan Hecker
DK Publishing, 2007, ISBN 978-0-7566-2660-0, US $12.99; CAN $15.99

Travel through time to visit the history of piracy. From Ancient Greece to Scandinavia to the Mediterranean Sea to France to the Spanish Main to the South China Sea, readers learn about pirates, their hunting grounds, their victims, life at sea, and the penalties the sea rogues suffered when captured. Piratepedia also explores modern maritime piracy and the swashbucklers of Hollywood and literature. Maps locate where you are, while compasses show you when in time. Signs and advertisements take you on side trips and provide you with tidbits to help you during the journey. Wanted posters highlight notorious pirates, while the Pirate Times provides current events of the day. A poster of Rackham’s Jolly Roger is also included.

The vivid and colorful images of artifacts, ships, weapons, treasure, places, tools, and food bring the world of piracy to life. Black-and-white portraits match the faces of individual pirates to their names, allowing readers to observe that your eyes don’t always see the evilness beneath the skin. Although published by the same company as the Eyewitness Books (Richard Platt’s Pirate), Piratepedia is geared toward older children and is a wonderful resource for beginning your piratical journey through history. A rare treat is the inclusion of historical tidbits rarely found in other books on this subject.

One drawback, though, is that on occasion the authors give a lopsided view. For example, they mention that the Mediterranean corsairs – both Christian and Barbary – enslaved people, but portray the Barbary Corsairs as villains, whereas the Knights of Malta come across more as the good guys. In reality, these corsairs were sometimes more brutal toward the many Muslims they enslaved than the Barbary Corsairs were to Christians. Also, no mention is made of the fact that the Muslims permitted Christian captives to convert and be free, or that many corsairs were renegadoes, Christians who became Muslims and attacked the ships and towns of Europe. Someone versed in the history of pirates will also discover some facts that aren’t quite true – such as William Kidd being captured in New York – but these are minor infractions.

The cover is eye-catching. Through the eye of the skull one can see a ship outlined against a cloudy blue sky – ripe pickings for any pirate. Inside is an ominous warning, “Only the brave or the foolish dare enter here…” Both entice readers to delve into the unsavory world of sea villains. Several treasures at the end of the book make Piratepedia a worthy addition to pirate collections. Since the authors include information on piracy today, readers learn about the shipwreck discoveries of Sam Bellamy’s Whydahand Blackbeard’s Queen Anne’s Revenge. Historical collections on sea rogues, though, do not include excerpts from “Classical Pirate Literature.” Piratepedia does. Each selection begins with an overview of the story and its importance in piratical history, a brief biography of the author, and a list of characters. The pirate stories included here are Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island, Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Pirates of Penzance, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Captain Sharkey. Other authors are also mentioned, so adventurous young pirates can delve into other noteworthy stories.
Sample Page:
                    Knights of Malta
Sample Page: Treasure
Sample Page: Wanted

Book Review Copyright ©2007 Cindy Vallar

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Shonen Jump's One Piece (series)

Cover Art: King of the
King of the Pirates
By Michael Antony Steele
Scholastic, 2006
ISBN 978-0-439-89719-8
US $4.99; CAN $6.50
Cover Art: The Circus Comes
                      to Town
The Circus Comes to Town
Adapted by Howie Dewin
Scholastic, 2006
ISBN 978-0-439-89726-6
US $4.99; CAN $6.50

A wealthy pirate, Gold Roger stands on the gallows awaiting the hangman’s noose. Before he dies, he tells the crowd, “My fortune is yours for the taking. But you’ll have to find it first. I left everything I own in one piece.” Pirates everywhere vow to find Roger’s “One Piece – the treasure that would make even the wildest dreams come true.”

In King of the Pirates, two sailors spy a bobbing barrel near their cruise ship and bring it aboard, but before they can discover what treasure lies within, the lookout spots a pirate ship! Koby is a reluctant pirate-in-training under the command of Captain Alvida. After they successfully capture the cruiser, Koby discovers the barrel and opens it. He never expects to see a strange boy inside. Monkey D. Luffy, Luffy for short, isn’t scared of Alvida or the pirates. He just wants to eat! The thieves have different plans for Luffy, and in the ensuing battle, they discover he can stretch and stretch and stretch his body until he utters three special words and becomes like a boomerang that quickly defeats the pirates. Luffy, who wants to be the king of pirates, agrees to drop Koby, who wants to join the royal navy, at the nearest port. The adventures that await them there, though, are not what either of them expects.

The pirates in The Circus Comes to Town are under the leadership of Buggy the Clown, who has a map that will lead them to One Piece. Only two things stand in their way – Luffy and a young girl named Nami, who steals Buggy’s treasure map right out from under his bulbous nose. All Luffy wants is food and a crew for his ship, and he thinks Nami would make a great navigator, but she has no intention of becoming a pirate. Buggy’s men are hot on their trail, though, and to save herself, she betrays Luffy and joins Buggy’s crew. What she doesn’t expect is for the captain to make her kill Luffy. How will they get out of this predicament? Will Luffy’s friends, Koby and the Pirate Hunter Zolo, arrive in time?

These adaptations of animated characters provide youngsters with rousing adventures that combine the fantastic with dangerous encounters while in search of treasure.

Book Review Copyright ©2007 Cindy Vallar

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A Moment in Time II: Pirates!

Cover Art: A Moment in
              Time II: Pirates!
A Moment in Time II: Pirates!
by J. Howland Woodward
PublishAmerica, 2006, ISBN 1-4241-5574-6, US $12.95

Tyler, David, and Josh have a special closet in their house. It is a doorway to the past, but they only have twenty-four hours to return once they enter the past. Tyler, ever curious, wants to learn more about Bill Johnston, Buccaneer of the Islands, so he ventures back to 1838. His older brothers follow, intent on retrieving Tyler before it’s too late and they are condemned to live in the past forever.

All three boys emerge from the wardrobe in a passenger’s cabin aboard the Robert S. Peel. As they tour the paddle-wheel ship, they bump into a stranger dressed in black. He threatens to turn them in to the captain unless the boys deliver a mysterious message to a man ashore wearing a red kerchief. Left with little choice – the gateway to their time is aboard the ship – the boys agree. They assume they will deliver the message and figure out a way to get back on the ship. The man with the kerchief has other ideas, for he and his partners take the brothers prisoners. Once at their hideout, Tyler comes face to face with Bill Johnston. Will he learn the truth about this notorious pirate? Will he and his brothers escape? How will they get back to the Robert S. Peel and the doorway back to the present?

Mrs. Woodward combines her love of teaching and historical novels into a captivating time travel for children. While not a pirate in the truest sense, Bill Johnston is a Canadian patriot who wanted for his country what Americans already had – independence from Britain. Based on a little-known incident in history, A Moment in Time II combines riveting adventure with mystery and intrigue. A fast-paced story for children, especially boys, who dream of the past and pirates and enjoy what-if puzzles.

Book Review Copyright ©2007 Cindy Vallar

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Jack Black and the Ship of Thieves

Cover Art: Jack Black and the
              Ship of Thieves
Jack Black and the Ship of Thieves
by Carol Hughes
Yearling, 2006, ISBN 0-375-80473-0, US $5.99

Young Jack Black has two wishes. More than anything he wants to be a pilot like his friend Gadfly, who flies a bright yellow Berger 17. He also wants to accompany his father on the maiden voyage of the greatest airship ever built, the Bellerophon. Jack has flown with Gadfly, but without his parents’ permission. Although reluctant to grant Jack his second wish, Captain Black agrees on the condition that Jack obeys his orders without argument. Jack readily agrees, but soon fate intervenes.

Just as the navigator prepares to ascend to the top ofBelle to take a reading with the only sextant aboard, one of the younger crew members needs assistance with a severe cut on his hand. Jack is told to wait, but a desire to see the clouds pulls him to ascend the ladder. After taking the coordinates of the airship, Jack descends, only to hear strange voices as the wind buffets Belle. Someone has disabled the rudder and planted a bomb on board. Jack must warn his father, but to do so he must crawl across the top of the airship and descend through another hatchway. As his pursuers close in, Jack tumbles over the side and falls. Through an impossible miracle, the sails of a ship and a pile of soiled clothes cushion his landing. Jack realizes, though, that he’s gone from one dangerous situation to another. The ship swarms with pirates!

When the rogues discover Jack, they force him to join the crew. He pleads with the captain to rescue his father and the crew of the Belle, but the pirate ship hasn’t put into port for over twenty years. Jack must find a way to escape the pirates and save his father, yet an indestructible battleship, a disabled plane, a volcano about to erupt, and the bomber challenge Jack at every turn. Can he overcome all these obstacles to come to Belle’s aid before the cold of the Arctic and a dwindling food supply kill his father and his crew?

This story has the feel of the serials shown before the main feature at the movies years ago. The action is nonstop, and while one or two of Jack’s encounters with danger seem a bit unrealistic or contrived, the reader never disbelieves what’s happening. The author does a wonderful job showing how technological developments change the world. Jack finds himself caught between right and wrong and learns valuable lessons about friendship and love.

Read an Excerpt

Book Review Copyright ©2007 Cindy Vallar

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How to Build Pirate Ships

Cover Art: How to Build
              Pirate Ships
How to Build Pirate Ships
by Doug Stillinger
Klutz, 2006, ISBN 1-57054-228-7, US $12.95 / CAN $16.99 / £8.99

Beware! This is not your normal book and it can be addictive, especially if you like jigsaw puzzles. How to Build Pirate Ships is exactly what the title says. Using building cards (already perforated and notched) that come with this book, children and adults can follow the page-by-page instructions to create a pirate ship or use the cards to construct a design of their own from a Spanish galleon to an island fortress, or a mansion to a river barge. Along the way builders learn to the parts of a ship and some scurvy pirate speak.

When I tried this book (which mysteriously appeared at my door one day), I opted to build the pirate ship in the instructions. First, I broke the cards into hangers, noses, skinnies, trapezoids, arcs, elbows, biggies, and squares. (Don’t worry, these are just the names of the various shapes of the building cards, which are quite sturdy.) The colorfully illustrated pieces have perforations that easily allowed me to break them apart with a snap. Using words and pictures, the instructions explain how to put the pieces together. The diagrams allow builders to see what pieces go where and how, as well as how the ship will look once the pieces are applied. You are shown what the vessel looks like once finished, but you can mix and match cards to create a patchwork ship rather than the one that is technically correct.

Inside page with instructionsSections of shipBuilding cards

I had only two problems while constructing my ship. On page 11, there is an error in the number of skinnies needed to complete step 8. The picture shows the right number (3), but the card picture says 4. On page 14, step 14 seems to include a skinny that has no purpose. Since I couldn’t figure out what to do with the card, I built the ship without it and had no problems. Aside from this all the instructions were clear cut and assembly was simple. These books are designed for ages 10 and older, so younger builders may need the help of an adult. When you’re finished, put the pirate that comes with the book on the deck.

A few of the creations require more than one pack of cards, but Klutz sells those in packs of two for $10.95. I had a lot of fun building my pirate ship, which measures 15 inches tall, about 17 inches long, and 7 inches wide. If I want to design another vessel, I can easily take the cards apart and begin again. The more cards you have, the bigger the ships and the greater the number of them that you can build. Great fun and an educational treasure, too!

I recently heard from Doug Stillenger, and he has fixed the error on page 11. The extra card on page 14 is no longer included in the artwork. Also, Melissa Bloomfield, a publicist at Scholastic Books, is the mysterious sender of this book.

Book Review Copyright ©2007 Cindy Vallar

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How to be a Pirate in 7 Days or Less

Cover Art: How to be a Pirate
              in 7 Days or Less
How to be a Pirate in 7 Days or Less
by Lesley Rees
illustrated by Jan Lewis
Kingfisher, 2006, ISBN 0-7534-6041-6, US $12.95

Ever want to be a pirate? Captain Kidd needs a crew, but he must find them in just seven days, for that’s when he sets sail in search of treasure. At present he only has a first mate named Barnacle Bill and Poopdeck, the parrot. This seven-day crash course in becoming a pirate will allow you to join him on his treasure-hunting expedition.

Day 1: Any good pirate requires a name. Once you’ve chosen yours, Captain Kidd shows you how to make a porthole nameplate to hang on your door.

Day 2: What’s a pirate without the proper set of clothes? The finishing touch to your costume will be to make a cutthroat cutlass.

Day 3: To navigate your ship, you need a telescope to see where you’re headed.

Day 4: What’s a pirate without a treasure chest? When the day’s done, you’ll have one in which to hide your booty.

Day 5: To gather treasure, you’ll need other pirates, so it’s time to invite them to the party. Your ship is in need of a Jolly Roger to warn others that you’re pirates in search of treasure. Once you have that, you need a map to show where you hide your plunder.

Day 6: Pirating is hard work, so you’ll need lots of food, like scurvy-busting grog, hard tack, topsail sandwiches, doubloons, rats’ tails & pieces of eight, and cannonballs.

Day 7: Once your crew assembles, there are games to play, treasure to find, and rules to bind you together as shipmates.

Each day, children learn a fact or two about pirates and make something that’s fun and educational at the same time. The materials needed for the activities can usually be found at home or purchased from a store for little money. Inside the front cover is a ruler for measuring and a cutlass and skulls and crossbones to trace. The inside back cover has a traceable alphabet. There, you’ll also find a “locked” satchel that contains a hat and eyepatch, stickers, game counters and “gold” earring, and a poster to color and display. The book also has strings that allow you to tie it shut.

How to be a Pirate in 7 Days or Less is a fun and safe way to explore the world of pirates. The instructions are easy to understand, although younger children will require the aid of an adult for some activities. (The book is geared toward ages 5 to 8.) The illustrations invite readers to explore the pages and understand what the day will bring. Pirates who dare to venture within will find plenty of treasure!

Book Review Copyright ©2007 Cindy Vallar

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Real World of Pirates series

Cover Art: History of
The History of Pirates 
by Allison Lassieur
ISBN 978-0-7368-6423-7
Cover Art: Pirate Code
The Pirate Code 
by Liam O’Donnell
ISBN 978-0-7368-6424-4
Cover Art: Pirate Gear
Pirate Gear 
by Liam O’Donnell
ISBN 978-0-7368-6425-1
Caover Art: Pirate
Pirate Hideouts
by Allison Lassieur
ISBN 978-0-7368-6426-8
Cover Art: Pirate Ships
Pirate Ships 
by Liam O’Donnell
ISBN 978-0-7368-6427-5
Cover Art: Pirate
Pirate Treasure 
by Liam O’Donnell
ISBN 978-0-7368-6428-2
Capstone Press, 2007, US $23.93 or $143.58 (set)

This new series introduces children who read chapter books to the world of pirates. Each book is divided into four chapters that concentrate on some aspect of the general topic. Illustrations and photographs are captioned, and a three-point introduction flag at the beginning of each chapter. Special facts are highlighted on a black background with white text, reminiscent of the pirates’ Jolly Roger. The books also contain special features that include a glossary, suggested reading list, an index, and information on how to access FactHound*, a safe-for-children Internet site that lists age-appropriate pirate websites.

The History of Pirates examines who they were, how people became pirates, how they lived, and what happened to pirates. Much of the material concentrates on the Golden Age of Piracy, but there are two pages on modern maritime piracy. The Pirate Code provides a closer look at what it was like to be a pirate. It includes more details on becoming a pirate and their codes of conduct than History does. It also includes a page on women pirates. Pirate Gear looks at tools pirates used in battle and aboard a ship. The final chapter discusses how pirates entertained themselves while at sea. Pirate Hideouts explores where the pirates hid and where they found safe havens. The book also looks at the notorious Port Royal. Pirate Ships covers ships and how pirates obtained them. Pirate Treasure explains how pirates searched for targets, ways in which they stole the treasure, and different types of booty.

According to the publisher, the reading level is Grades 3-4 and the interest level is Grades 3-9. While no information is provided on the authors, Sarah Knott, the Director of the Pirate Soul Museum in Key West, Florida, served as the series’ consultant. A few times, I found the generalization of facts to not quite ring true because they don’t apply to pirates throughout history, but children just beginning to learn about pirates won’t be aware of this. On the whole, the information provided is accurate and the presentation is absorbing. The interesting narrative flows from one page to the next, and the stunning artwork captures the reader’s eyes. While the price is a bit dear, there are few pirate books written for children who have graduated from picture books, but aren’t quite ready for volumes aimed at older children and young adults. It is an excellent introduction to piracy that may spur children to investigate the topic further.

Visit Liam O'Donnell

Book Review Copyright ©2006 Cindy Vallar

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The Pirate's Plot

Cover Art: The Pirate's Plot by
              Ellen Miles
The Pirate’s Plot
by Ellen Miles
Scholastic, 2006, ISBN 0-439-59709-9, US $4.99 / Can $6.99

Leo loves soccer – it is essentially his life – but the new coach insists on doing boring drills. He takes all the fun out of playing soccer. Leo blurts out in class one day that he’s going to quit the team. Mr. Taylor, his teacher, gets Leo to explain why. He has a big decision to make, but needs to think more about the problem. To help take Leo’s mind off his dilemma, Mr. Taylor asks Leo to name five items for Mr. Taylor to weave into a tale. Leo decides on a story that includes a pirate ship, a six-toed cat, a big chunk of cheese, a brass key, and a mop. Before long, Mr. Taylor spins a yarn about a lad named Tom who hitches a ride on a ship. He just doesn’t know there are pirates aboard!

Part of the series “Taylor-made Tales,” The Pirate’s Plot deftly weaves a modern-day problem with traitorous crewmembers in league with pirates. Children ages seven to ten will enjoy learning how Tom and Leo work out their problems. Finding Leo’s five items amidst the pirate story keeps readers tuned into the adventure. By story’s end, they’ll all wish they had a teacher like Mr. Taylor, who’s a rare treasure indeed. At the same time, The Pirate’s Plot introduces readers to wooden sailing ships and life at sea. The story is also suitable for reading aloud to younger children.

Book Review Copyright ©2006 Cindy Vallar

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Cover Art: Pirateology
Candlewick Press, 2006, ISBN 076363143-4, US $19.99 / CAN $27.99

Arabella Drummond, a notorious pirate and Blackbeard’s sister, witnesses her brother’s death at the hands of Lieutenant Maynard. In a terrible rage, she pillages the Caribbean and east coast of North America. After she has the audacity to rob Governor Samuel Shute of Massachusetts, he hires Captain William Lubber to hunt her down. In June 1726, the hunter and hunted come together in a fierce battle at sea, but neither is heard from again. Not until divers uncover a sea chest off the Grand Banks of Newfoundland is Lubber’s tale told, this time from the grave. Among the contents of the chest is his journal. Within its pages he recounts his adventures, interspersing facts about pirates and artifacts he’s collected during his hunt for this particular pirate.

Except for the tale about Blackbeard’s fatal meeting with Maynard, the tale of Arabella is fiction. The information on pirates and the samples of privateering documents, diagrams, charts, and other artifacts are factual. Pirateology allows young readers to safely explore the lives of buccaneers and learn about ships, navigation, the Jolly Roger, famous pirates, weaponry, treasure, pirate havens, nautical language, and exotic wildlife. What sets this book apart from most is that Arabella’s exploits introduce readers to pirates from around the world, rather than just emphasizing those of the Caribbean. Although the publisher says the book is for children six and older, the actual audience is somewhat older. Younger children may enjoy the pictures, but the text and documents are aimed at those who can read and are eager to explore with care. An excellent introduction to pirates, with the caveat that some of the information included is fiction rather than fact.

Look inside Pirateology

Book Review Copyright ©2006 Cindy Vallar

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The Pirate Princess and Other Fairy Tales

Cover Art: The Pirate
              Princess and Other Fairy Tales by Neil Philip and
              illustrated by Mark Weber
The Pirate Princess and Other Fairy Tales
by Neil Philip
Illustrated by Mark Weber
Scholastic, 2005, ISBN 0-590-10855-7, US $19.99 / Can $24.99

In the opening decade of the nineteenth century, Rabbi Nahman Ben Simha of Bratslav, told fairy tales to his followers. This collection of seven stories features people who dream and dare to do new things. Treasures are sought and found, but they found aren’t always what the seekers expect. Neil Philip adapts these fairy tales that originally incorporated Hasidic and Kabbalistic traditions so the general reader can enjoy Rabbi Nahman’s gift of storytelling.

Only two tales involve pirates. The title story is about a princess who becomes a pirate in order to find true love. “The Merchant and the Poor Man” concerns an emperor’s daughter, whom a pirate captures. The remaining stories involve a man who shows the king what true happiness is; a princess jealous of her brother; a poor man who searches for treasure faraway when it’s actually much closer to home; a prince who thinks he’s a turkey; and a princess imprisoned in the Evil One’s castle.

These traditional fairy tales, sometimes with unexpected twists, will delight and entertain readers of all ages. While those not versed in Hasidic teachings may not fully comprehend the story notes found at the end of the book, this in no way impedes the reader’s enjoyment of the stories.

Book Review Copyright ©2006 Cindy Vallar

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The Giant Rat of Sumatra or Pirates Galore

Cover Art: The Giant Rat of
              Sumatra or Pirates Galore by Sid Fleischman
The Giant Rat of Sumatra, or Pirates Galore
by Sid Fleischman
HarperCollins Children’s Books, 2005, ISBN 978-9-06-074240-9, US$5.99 / CAN$7.99

When pirates rescue him after his ship sinks, twelve-years-old Shipwreck’s life begins. As Captain Gallows’ cabin boy aboard The Giant Rat of Sumatra, the most notorious pirate ship of the Pacific. They are bound for San Diego, where Gallows plans to retire and Shipwreck hopes to find passage to Boston to reunite with his mother. Once they dock, Gallows entrusts his most prized possessions to Shipwreck – emeralds as big as walnuts and the eyes of the giant rat adorning the ship’s bow. Their plans for the future should unfold without a hitch, but less trustworthy pirates plot to steal the emeralds; banditos, led by a mysterious lady, rob them on their return from Captain Gallows’ new ranch; and war breaks out between the United States and Mexico, preventing Shipwreck from sailing for home.

Even though much of this tale takes place on land, Newbery Medalist Sid Fleischman makes these pirate adventures as exciting as those at sea. Ingenuity is a key weapon in the pirate’s arsenal, and no one displays this better than Captain Gallows. Living with pirates has taught Shipwreck much about life, but it isn’t until he ventures ashore that he learns an important lesson. Tales of pirates who prowled Pacific waters are rare, but The Giant Rat of Sumatra introduces young readers of chapter books to piracy on the other side of the world. Fleischman’s desire to mix in some little-known American history adds spice to the salmagundi.

Visit Sid Fleischman
Sid Fleischman answers childrens' questions

Book Review Copyright ©2006 Cindy Vallar

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Blackbeard's Last Fight

Cover Art: Blackbeard's
              Last Fight
Blackbeard’s Last Fight
by Eric A. Kimmel
Illustrated by Leonard Everett Fisher
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, April 2006, ISBN 0-374-30780-6, US $17.00 / CAN $23.75

Jeremy Hobbs, the cabin boy aboard the HMS Pearl, accompanies Lieutenant Maynard on a visit to the governor of Virginia. Alexander Spotswood recruits them to hunt down and destroy Blackbeard, one of the most feared pirates to prey upon the American Colonies. The governor lacks the authority to send Maynard into North Carolina waters, so this is a secret mission, one Jeremy eagerly wants to join.

Aboard the Jane with Lieutenant Maynard, Jeremy listens to the sailors’ tales of Blackbeard until they arrive at their destination--Ocracoke Inlet. While Jeremy eats hardtack and dried beef in total darkness, the pirates entertain themselves aboard the Adventure. At dawn, the fight begins, but things never go according to plan, and Jeremy plays a far greater role in bringing about Blackbeard’s demise than he ever expects.

A picture book for older children, this captivating tale blends the myths and facts about Blackbeard in such a way that this notorious villain becomes a living pirate. He is fearsome and ruthless, but with a heart, at least where Jeremy is concerned. The colorful artwork conveys the message of good over evil while presenting a realistic portrayal of Blackbeard and his downfall that enhances the story without being gruesome. Blackbeard’s Last Fight provides younger readers (ages 8 and up) with a wonderful introduction to learn more about this particular pirate.

Artwork: BlackbeardArtwork: Attacking

Visit Eric A. Kimmel

Book Review Copyright © 2006 Cindy Vallar

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The Pirate Meets the Queen

Cover Art: The Pirate
              Meets the Queen
The Pirate Meets the Queen
by Matt Faulkner

Philomel Books, 2005, ISBN 0-399-24038-1, $15.99 US / $23.50 CAN

Granny O’Malley loves the sea. When her mother forbids her to sail aboard her father’s Stallion, she chops off her hair and dresses in boys’ clothes and stows aboard the galley. Ma refuses to be deterred; Granny soon finds herself wed to an Irish chief’s son. Even this fails to keep her from her first love, and over the years she becomes a fine sailor and fiercesome pirate. Her constant attacks on English ships so angers Red Liz that the Queen declares Granny an outlaw. Her kinfolk suffer for Granny’s piracy, but she protects them as best she can.

When her son, Toby, turns seventeen, he captains his own vessel, but his recklessness leads to his capture. Knowing the English will hang her son, Granny visits Red Liz in faraway London to ask for a pardon for Toby.

This “illuminated tale” introduces two remarkable women to children--Grace O’Malley and Elizabeth I. Told in the first person, Granny relates the important events in her life that eventually lead to her famous meeting with the English Queen, her enemy. The author confesses in his note to readers “that some of what I’ve written is true and some of it is a little fanciful. It’s the way of storytelling.” This is what makes The Pirate Meets the Queen a captivating story. He remains true to the known facts with one exception. He confuses Granny’s first marriage with that of her second. This is a minor foible, and one that doesn’t detract from the rich details and fascinating life that Granny leads. The illustrations capture the essence of Ireland, and enrich this tale of how far a mother will go to protect her child.

Meet Matt Faulkner

Book Review Copyright © 2005 Cindy Vallar

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The Big Book of Pirates

Cover Art: Big Book of
The Big Book of Pirates
by Chuck Tessaro

Illustrated by Anatoly Slepkov
Running Press, 2004, ISBN 0-7624-1624-6, US $9.98/ CAN $13.95/ UK £8.99

Who were the pirates? How did they live? What happened to them? These are some of the questions this children’s book explores. The author defines the various words for pirates and looks at where pirates preyed. Different types of pirate ships and how to navigate them are also discussed. There are short biographies on Henry Morgan, Captain Kidd, Mary Read, Anne Bonny, Blackbeard, Stede Bonnett, Sam Bellamy, and Bartholomew Roberts. The book also covers fictional pirates, shipwrecks, and piracy today.

The uninitiated reader will find a lot of useful details and depth about piracy here, but not all the facts are as well researched as they should be. For example, the author refers to Marque of Letters, whereas most historians and pirate aficionados know privateers carried Letters of Marque. Some of the quartermaster’s duties actually belonged to the boatswain. The difference between the red flag and the black one are reversed. The statement that experts believe pirates wore earrings to improve their eyesight is false. Another problem is that dates aren’t always provided, which leaves the reader thinking the information pertains to all time periods, when in actuality the opposite is true.

Unlike many picture books, the material is geared for older children who want more information, but still like wonderful illustrations that show true pirates. The book is a good introduction to piracy, but readers should consult other books as well.

Book Review Copyright ©2005 Cindy Vallar

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The Barefoot Book of Pirates

Cover Art: Barefoot Book of
The Barefoot Book of Pirates
Retold by Richard Walker

Illustrations by Olywyn Whelan
Barefoot Books, 1998, ISBN 1-84148-886-0, $9.99

These seven folktales is devoted to pirates come from Scandinavia, England, Germany, Ireland, Japan, Scotland, and Morocco. They involve magic, adventure, good and bad pirates, cleverness, and danger. “The Captain’s Goose” makes a pirate captain a king. Robin Hood rescues fishermen from pirates instead of peasants from the Sheriff of Nottingham in “Robin Hood and the Pirates.” An unseen visitor befriends a cabin boy in “The Kobold and the Pirates.” “Pirate Grace” relates what happens when a lord dares to snub the pirate queen. A fiddler escapes from pirates in “Music Charms the Pirates.” Stolen bells reveal the pirates’ location in “The Abbey Bells.” “The Ship of Bones” recounts how pirates rescue stranded passengers after their boat sinks.

Anyone seeking different stories to share with their children should consider this entertaining collection of pirate folktales. They’re excellent for storytelling in front of audiences of all ages. Ms. Whelan’s drawings complement the stories and bring them to life.

Book Review Copyright ©2004 Cindy Vallar

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Pirate's Passage

Back Cover Art: Pirate's PassageCover Art: Pirate's Passage
Pirate's Passage
by William Gilkerson

Trumpeter Books for Young Readers, 2006, US $17.95 / CAN $25.95
ISBN 1-59030-247-8

A fierce storm blows along the coast of Nova Scotia one dreary mid-November afternoon in 1952. Twelve-year-old Jim sits in his room overlooking the bay, trying to work on his school essay on pirates while his mother works downstairs in the family hotel, which has fallen on hard times. Outside, an unexpected sailboat docks at the pier, and Captain Charles Johnson asks to stay the winter while repairs are made to his vessel. There is an aura of mystery to this stranger, but he soon weaves his way into the lives of those at the inn and the townspeople. His down-to-earth tales of pirates captivate Jim, but sometimes Jim senses something sinister in the captain. Still, he helps Jim and his mother out of several jams, including the loss of their home, the rescue of their cannon, and thwarting the town bullies.

Pirate’s Passage is reminiscent of Treasure Island, but with a modern-day setting. Told in the first person, Jim intersperses episodes of his life with his encounters and friendship with Captain Johnson, a man who seems to have intimate knowledge about pirates, as if he had lived amongst them. But that’s impossible! Somewhat a coming-of-age novel, it is also a history of piracy, although most of the information is delivered in dialogue rather than in action scenes. Adventure and intrigue go hand-in-hand with self-discovery, making this a laid-back tale of pirates, friends, and making choices.

Meet William Gilkerson

Book Review Copyright ©2006 Cindy Vallar

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The Country Pirate

Cover Art: The Country Pirate
The Country Pirate
by P. E. Alty

Kindle, 2005, $1.21

In 1716 Sam leads a humdrum existence, cleaning The Four Keys Inn that caters to pirates each day and taking his mother’s abuse while steering clear of his drunken father. One day Sam finds a coin and a jewel while doing his chores. The disappearance of his older brother and the succulent taste of a freshly baked bun awaken in Sam the urge to change his life, to seek out Daniel, and to travel as far from the southwest coast of England as he can.

Each night before the pirates arrive, Old Tom – himself a retired pirate with a mysterious past – takes his post inside the inn and announces new arrivals. Sam discovers Old Tom is a pickpocket, and the two join in partnership to fleece the unsuspecting patrons. Sam begins his lessons with observation – watching and listening to see which pirates won’t miss their treasured booty. Among the regular customers, Sam notices one pirate captain who always sits alone, who never utters a word.

Sam’s mother suspects something is afoot, but can’t say what. One night, after Sam retires, she and Sam’s father catch Old Tom stealing a ring from a pirate. A deadly fight ensues between Old Tom and Sam’s father, and Sam finds himself fleeing the only home he’s known because his mother vows to accuse him of the murders. His only place of refuge is Old Tom’s cottage, hidden deep in the woods where no one ventures. Once inside, Sam finds he’s not alone. The mysterious pirate captain from the inn waits there, and he has plans of his own for Sam’s future.

Although this story takes place entirely on land, P. E. Alty succeeds in making it very much a pirate tale. I hadn’t expected the secret that’s unveiled halfway through the book, for there are no signs to alert the reader ahead of time, but the story flows without skipping a beat. The skills of a copyeditor would have been a plus, but these minor mistakes in no way detract from this adventure. The pirates remain true to history, although the bloodthirstiness often associated with them is toned down. The Country Pirate starts at a slow pace, but once the author introduces the characters and the action unfolds, it’s a rousing tale for young adults and adults seeking treasure akin to that found in Treasure Island.

Book Review Copyright ©2006 Cindy Vallar

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Operation Red Jericho

Cover Art: Operation Red Jericho
Operation Red Jericho
By Joshua Mowll

Candlewick Press, 2005, ISBN 0-7636-2634-1, US $15.99/ CAN $22.99

Fifteen-year-old Rebecca MacKenzie and her younger brother, Doug, find themselves aboard the Expedient in 1920 Shanghai. There they meet their uncle, Captain Fitzroy MacKenzie, for the first time. The arrival of an injured visitor, a tiger stalking the decks, and forbidden sections of the ship provide additional pieces to the complicated puzzle surrounding the disappearance of their parents while on an expedition to a remote area in China--a mystery Rebecca intends to solve no matter what danger the journey brings.

Her investigation reveals the existence of a secret society and the quest for a powerful substance that could destroy the world if it fell into the wrong hands. As the siblings follow the clues, a mysterious man dressed in a white suit tricks them into stowing aboard a junk bound for the island fortress of a most evil pirate. While in captivity, they meet a female barnstormer, who’s been a prisoner long enough to know the secrets of the pirate lair, and she warns them their uncle is walking into a fatal trap unless they find a way to alert him to the danger before it’s too late.

Written for older children and young adults, this adventure is the first in a series of three books involving the MacKenzies and their search for their parents. The tale has the feel of an old Charlie Chan movie or a radio drama like The Shadow. The confidential artifacts and documents that accompany the text add the authentic feel of a real-life, spy-mission dossier, leaving the reader to wonder whether the tale is fact or fiction.

Inside Page Spread:
              Operation Red Jericho

Meet Author Joshua Mowll
Read an Excerpt from Operation Red Jericho

Book Review Copyright ©2005 Cindy Vallar

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Book Cover: Pirates!
By Celia Rees

Bloomsbury USA Children's Books, 2003, ISBN 1-58234-816-2, $17.95

Nancy Kington, daughter of a Bristol, England merchant, has come of marriageable age when the novel opens. She lives a comfortable life and expects to marry her childhood friend, William, once he becomes an officer in the Royal Navy. A wicked storm, however, changes Mr. Kington's fortunes. When he asks if she will do whatever she must to secure their future, Nancy has no idea what she promises.

Not until after her father's unexpected death and her voyage to their plantation in Jamaica does Nancy learn the truth. She must wed a most sinister man, Bartholome, the Brazilian. From the moment she arrives at his estate, she senses her life will change. By evening's end, she loses her childhood innocence and kills an overseer.

Minerva, a young slave girl whom Nancy befriends, flees with Nancy after the murder. When pirates come ashore near where they hide, the two girls discover that Nancy knows the captain and several of the pirates--the men crewed the ship that brought her to Jamaica. After a council meeting, the pirates agree to allow the women to sign their articles of agreement and go on the account. No matter how far they travel or what riches they acquire, though, Nancy finds herself hunted. The Royal Navy, including her beloved William, is determined to rid the Caribbean of pirates and Bartholome will stop at nothing to possess Nancy!

Written as a diary, Pirates! is a gritty and realistic portrayal of pirate life. Although riches abound, Nancy and Minerva's adventures do not glitter. They are fraught with peril, intrigue, and evil. Celia Rees' rendering of early eighteenth-century life for two young women--one white, one black; one free, one slave--provides a vivid portrayal of reality for young adult readers. The hints of sorcery and magic flavor the tale perfectly so that the sinister Bartholome becomes a devil to fear.

Minerva understands the problems of living in two worlds and knows where she belongs. She makes her own way in the world, accepting the restraints society places on her. She prizes her freedom and skillfully achieves her goal in unexpected ways. In spite of her misgivings and trepidation, Nancy is a heroine to admire. She accepts the hand fate deals hers, but on her terms and as she does so, she matures into a wise woman who never forgets who she is or what she was. In spite of adversity, she never loses hope.

Meet Celia Rees
Visit Pirates! Website

Book Review Copyright ©2003 Cindy Vallar

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Caribbean Capers

Cover Art: Caribbean Capers
Caribbean Capers
By Joan & Marco Santomenna
WindSpirit Publishing, 2003, ISBN 0-9643407-2-0, $9.95

Brian and his father journey to the Virgin Islands for a sailing adventure that will bring them closer together now that Brian's mother has died. Buzz, the captain's son, bridges the cultural and racial differences to make friends with Brian. The two teenagers embark on a series of adventures that span two summers.

Contrary to the title of the first story, "The Brotherhood of Pirates," the boys don't encounter real pirates in their adventures. Instead, they stumble upon a ring of thieves who steal from the many sailboats and ships that travel the Caribbean. The story moves at a fast clip and contains a lot of suspense teenage boys will enjoy--injured hikers, abandoned forts, adrift at sea without supplies.

The better of the two stories, though, is "Kidnapped in the Caribbean." Brian returns to the Virgin Islands for a fun-filled summer aboard Buzz's father's boat, but no one's aboard to greet him. Then he discovers Eric, a young stowaway, who's trying to escape from would-be kidnappers! Brian soon reunites with Buzz and Sammy, another teen who's come to their aid before. As the boys elude the kidnappers, they encounter intrigue, political unrest, hidden slave hideaways, and a nuclear submarine.

Intended for boys in their early teens, Caribbean Capers captures the reader's imagination while instilling in them the values of cooperation, friendship, and acceptance. Anyone who's ever felt out of place or different will immediately identify with Sammy, while those who've experienced unexpected danger will sympathize with Eric's plight. Brian and Buzz grow and develop as the stories progress and while their adventures seem unbelievable, the reader will remain on the edge of his seat waiting to see what happens next.

Book Review Copyright ©2003 Cindy Vallar

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The Buccaneers

Cover Art: The Buccaneers
The Buccaneers
By Iain Lawrence
Delacorte Press, 2001, ISBN 0-385-32736-6

Bound for the West Indies, John Spencer sets sail aboard the Dragon in 1803. When he sights a lifeboat with one passenger in the middle of the ocean, his adventure truly begins. Is Horn a Jonah as the gunner believes or is he the one man whose knowledge of the Caribbean can help John and his crew survive these treacherous waters? Sharks may inhabit the sea, but so does Bartholomew Grace, a cruel pirate who gives no quarter to his prey.

The final book in The High Seas Trilogy, this is not your normal tale of pirates and high seas adventure. Iain Lawrence’s portrayal of life aboard wooden sailing ships and bloodthirsty pirates has gritty realism that dares the reader to turn each page. The Buccaneers is not for the faint-hearted. Aimed at older young adults, particularly males, this stand-alone novel will also satisfy adults searching for historical maritime adventure without the romanticism often associated with piracy literature. A perfect tale to read aloud on a moonless night while seated around the campfire.

Originally reviewed for Historical Novels Review

Book Review  Copyright ©2002 Cindy Vallar

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Library of Pirates

Cover Art: Barbarossa BrothersCover Art: BlackbeardCover Art: Bonny and ReadCover Art: Captain KiddCover Art: Jean Lafitte
By Aileen Weintraub
Rosen, 2002, $18.75 each

The Barbarossa Brothers, ISBN 0-8239-5799-3
Blackbeard, ISBN 0-8239-5794-2
Anne Bonny and Mary Read, ISBN 0-8239-5795-0
Captain Kidd, ISBN 0-8239-5797-7
Jean Lafitte, ISBN 0-8239-5796-9

One of Rosen Publishing Group's newest series of books introduces children to an interesting assortment of pirates who terrorized the High Seas from the 1500s through the 1800s. The books are twenty-four pages long, and include a glossary, index, and web sites. Each double-page spread consists of an illustration and text detailing some aspect of the pirates' lives. Children will delight in the skull-and-cutlass borders that decorate the pages and the text that appears on curled parchment with tattered and burned edges.

The Barbarossa Brothers attacked ships in the Mediterranean Sea. Few books, especially those written for children, discuss the Barbary corsairs, so I'm delighted to see Arouj and Kheir-ed-din included in this series. Contrary to the title, the book is primarily about Kheir-ed-din rather than both brothers, whose red beards gave them the name by which history remembers them. He became a legend in his own time, and Ms. Weintraub does a commendable job relating the details of his career without allowing the religion and politics of the period to overwhelm the story. The perfect book for young pirate fans who want to know about lesser known pirates who achieved great notoriety. (1)

Most children have heard of Blackbeard, perhaps the most notorious of all pirates. Ms. Weintraub enriches the telling of his story as she separates fact from legend. The illustrations are wonderful portrayals of the fierce pirate who employed techniques of psychological warfare to instill terror in his victims. She also discusses his flagship, Queen Anne's Revenge, which archeologists believe they have found along the North Carolina coast. The best book in the series.

In contrast, Anne Bonny and Mary Read is the least well-done of the pirate books. Little of their adventures prior to capture can be authenticated in primary documents, but the author presents these legends as fact. Also, the editing of the book is sloppy. The inclusion of some pictures will leave readers wondering why, as in the case of a map of Europe one hundred years after Mary's death. The section dealing with how these two infamous pirates met begins with "Anne and Mary had to make sure that the other pirates didn't find out they were women." Yet further down the page it reveals that Anne didn't try hard to maintain her disguise, while the caption for the accompanying picture says the opposite. (2)

Was Captain Kidd a pirate or wasn't he? What did he do with all his treasure? Those questions have puzzled historians for many years. The author concisely explains the circumstances surrounding this Scotsman without getting bogged down in details. Although little is known of his early life, she does include personal information about him prior to the privateering venture that resulted in his piracy trial. The illustrations in this book are some of the best in the series, but some younger children may have problems with one of Kidd's body on display as a warning to other pirates. An excellent introduction to Captain Kidd and his adventures.

One problem that any author encounters when researching Jean Lafitte is determining whether something is legend or fact. He was a consummate master at steeping himself in mystery, never telling the same story about his background or deeds twice. Unfortunately, the author continues to perpetuate some of the myths about Lafitte. There are several factual errors in the book as well. William C. C. Claiborne, Lafitte's nemesis, was governor of Louisiana not New Orleans. The Baratarians, the smugglers and privateers who became Lafitte's men, approached him rather than the other way around. While his and the Baratarians' participation in the Battle of New Orleans is discussed, no clear explanation is given why their services earned them a presidential pardon and the status of hero. Andrew Jackson was woefully short of men, ammunition, and arms, all of which Lafitte supplied. Members of the Laffite Society have done significant research into his life in recent years, but the author doesn't seem to have partaken of their findings. I also wonder why she chose the more conventional spelling of Lafitte rather than spelling his name as he did, Laffite. I recommend the web site she suggests, Jean Lafitte: Gentleman Pirate of New Orleans, as it provides a comprehensive biography of Jean Laffite. It is, however, written for adults rather than children.


*One additional title in this series was not reviewed - Henry Morgan (ISBN 0-8239-5798-5). The publisher recommends this series for children who are 8 years old.

(1) The URL cited for more information is no longer valid.
(2) The first two URLs listed in this book are no longer valid. The third web site, which I highly recommend, has changed its domain name since the book was published. Check the Education Links for Pirates & Privateers for the current URL to the Australian School Children's Project.

Book Review - Copyright ©2002 Cindy Vallar

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