pirates

Nelly and the Quest for Captain Peabody by Roland Chambers, illustrated by Ella Okstad

nelly and the quest for captain peabody

Leaping onto the bandwagon of highly illustrated texts for young readers (in the vein of Philip Reeve and Sarah McIntyre), comes a new title about a voyage on the seas. It’s not as wacky as Philip Reeve’s tales, but this story is told with such beautiful writing, that it had to be my book of the week.

Nelly is determined to set sail and search for her father, who promised to return after a year, but has been missing at sea for a long time. Leaving behind her mother, who seems to do little except sit and knit, Nelly roams the seas with just her pet turtle, Columbus for company.

Nelly is a plucky and resourceful heroine, just like her contemporaries, Ottoline by Chris Riddell and Violet by Harriet Whitehorn, and following in the footsteps of Pippi Longstocking. When Nelly says she is going to do something she sticks to it. She knits new sails for her ship, stocks it with provisions, and while sailing the high seas she learns to juggle china cups and eats lemons for a month. She may be a solitary child, but she is never bored.

The author’s knowledge of seas (he wrote a biography of Authur Ransome, the author of Swallows and Amazons) comes into its own here with lavish descriptions of boats and sailing, from storms at sea to the tasks of maintaining a ship. The story contains a rich vocabulary of sailing terminology. But that is not all, Chamber’s descriptions are simply sumptuous:

“When Nelly sailed into her first storm it was as though a thousand shouting mouths had opened in the water.”
and things take off spectacularly when Nelly reaches a surprising volcano in the northern seas, inside which her father might be residing:
“And all the time the drums sounded louder-lub-dub, lub-dub-like Nelly’s own heart beating, so that it was hard to tell what was inside and what was outside.”

The story veers off into fantasy (as if it wasn’t fantasy enough with a girl sailing with knitted sails across the world on her own), as she delves into a hidden volcano at the top of the world, inside which is a jungle where her father and his crew are living quite happily.

Despite being fantastical, and a delight to read, there are patches of extraordinary darkness – her parent’s inconceivable neglect, scary moments at sea, the frightening trek through the jungle, and her complicated reunion with her father.

Some critics have alluded to the lack of female characters – Nelly is the only female in the entire book (the mother is notable by her absence), but I would think there is scope for this to be rectified in further stories of Nelly. Moreover, her strength, intelligence and integrity stand out against the lack of qualities in the male characters. And it is superbly tongue-in-cheek that she is granted ‘honorary gentleman status’.

Ella Okstad’s illustrations enhance the text; there are maps, portraits, fabulous depictions of Nelly’s turtle, and great pictures of the ship to assist any reader struggling with the rich language. Although the interest level is 7+yrs, the reading level is slightly higher because of the language – but this is a treat – it means it’s ripe for reading aloud to your children – and more enjoyment for all.

I reviewed a proof copy of this book, which sadly didn’t contain all the finished illustrations. You can buy your own copy here, and enjoy all the illustrations fully.

 

Pieces of Eight

What do you want to be when you grow up? It’s a question children ask themselves a great deal – I discussed it with some Year 1s recently. Many of them wanted to be teachers (they must have great role models), and none wanted to be librarians. (I am working on this!) Some wanted to be pirates. Although I don’t condone criminal behaviour, it was an opportunity to discuss what sort of person could be a pirate, which skills they would need, and most importantly what would pirates wear, and eat?

flinn

Captain Flinn and the Pirate Dinosaurs by Giles Andreae and Russell Ayto
An old favourite of ours – even as an eight month old baby one of our children knew when the ‘roar’ was coming in the text. Flinn is an ordinary boy who falls into a world of dinosaurs and pirates through his school art cupboard. He takes his friends with him, and before long they are fighting on behalf of Captain Stubble to rescue his beloved ship from the roaring Pirate Dinosaurs. The humour that infuses this text makes it loveable and readable – from the cowardice of Captain Stubble to the references to dinosaurs liking tomato ketchup and a dual which lasts for precisely two hours and twenty-five minutes, exhausting the T-Rex. It is a flowing adventure story packed neatly into a picture book with phenomenally rendered illustrations of pirate ships, ferocious dinosaurs, and on the final pages, a typical school room with the gentle Miss Pie. A great mix of content that children of this age devour. You can buy it here or on the Amazon sidebar.

rufus goes to sea

Rufus Goes to Sea by Kim T Griswell, illustrated by Valerie Gorbachev
Can anyone be a pirate? Rufus, a young book-loving pig, inspired by adventure stories he reads, decides to be a pirate for his summer holiday. The stereotypical pirates on board the ship, including Captain Wibblyshins with his wooden leg, and First Mate Scratchwhiskers with his eye patch, have their doubts that a pig has the right skillset to be a pirate. Finally Rufus demonstrates his one very useful skill – the ability to read – not only books but treasure maps – and is accepted on board. Packed with pirate references from yardarms to crow’s nests, Jolly Rogers to quarter decks, this will not only invigorate your child’s seafaring vocabulary, but endear them to a little pink pig who is ruthless in pursuit of his own destiny. Perseverance and reading pay off! There’s a lovely twist at the end too – the treasure it not quite what you’d expect. A lovely little story from the US. Look out too for the very colourful, detailed illustrations. Buy it here from Waterstones, or click through to Amazon.

pirates in pyjamas

Pirates in Pyjamas by Caroline Crowe and Tom Knight
So pirates come in all shapes and sizes, and need to be able to read, but what do they wear? Caroline Crowe wonders what pirates wear when they sleep in this playful new rhyming picture book.  The book leads the reader rather merrily to bed, describing which pyjamas the pirates might wear, what they do in the bath (make shark fins with the shampoo in their hair), what a pirate pyjama party might look like, and how they finally get to sleep. The last rhyme is rather cute, for smaller pirates everywhere:
“So if you want to be a pirate,
you don’t need a patch or sword.
You just need your best pyjamas,
and a bed to climb aboard.”
The illustrations are touchingly sentimental – two young friends or siblings sharing a bedroom, decorated with pirate paraphernalia – even the teddy has an eye patch. The pirates come in all shapes and sizes – bearded, thin, fat, large and small, pale, dark, exotic, and with different facial expressions too – a source of wonder and excitement for little readers. It’s colourful and fun. This book publishes in mid August 2015. You can buy it here.

pizza for pirates

Pizza for Pirates by Adam and Charlotte Guillain, illustrated by Lee Wildish
Lastly, what pirates eat! Part of the ongoing picture book series about George, including Spaghetti with the Yeti and Marshmallows for Martians, the authors continue their foody adventures. George sets off armed with a pizza to win over a pirate crew. He takes some time to find the crew, firstly being swallowed by a whale, whose stomach contents suggest that it too has had dalliance with pirates, and then landing on an island. Along with a helpful parrot, George finally finds his pirate crew, digs up some treasure, and saves them from a sea monster (with the assistance of his now soggy pizza). Also, as above, using a bed to represent a boat, the authors have used home props to make the adventure familiar. George’s bedroom also has a teddy with an eye patch, pirate dress up props and some themed lamps and curtains. There is no end to the brightness here – mermaids, fish, cartoon crabs and starfish, and an ending that looks like the most terrific pool party. Lots to look at, I can imagine this being a firm bedtime favourite. You can buy it here or on the Amazon sidebar.

As I recently pointed out, much of our ‘pirate’ cultural heritage stems from Treasure Island. Stevenson’s inspiration for the story was a map drawn by a child, and ever since there have been a plethora of fictional references to treasure maps, x marking the spot, and dastardly pirates, all descended from the ever-lasting Long John Silver and his search for treasure. (Note: Robert Louis Stevenson first called the story The Sea Cook – one has to wonder if the story would have endured in the same way with this flat alternative title).

Picture Book Bonanza

So many fantastic picture books have been published so far this year – I wanted to tell you about a few of my tried and tested favourites.

princess daisy and nincompoop

Princess Daisy and the Dragon and the Nincompoop Knights by Steven Lenton (5 Feb)
Any book that has nincompoop in the title is a winner for me – but subsequently I was blown away by the content inside. From an ironic beginning about how all fairy tales are the same, right to the end with our feisty heroine proving her father wrong, this is an absolute rhyming delight. When a roaring dragon disturbs the peace of the town, the king sends for some knights to tackle his problem. They turn out to be complete nincompoops, and it’s his daughter with a brain who solves the issue. So much of the text here is worth quoting because the rhyming is spot on and totally hilarious – both for children and their parents:
Then everybody cheered, “Well, that’s a turn-up for the books!
And doesn’t it just go to show you mustn’t judge on looks?”
The pictures are bold and fun and colourful. A great twist on stereotypes, and characters with impeccably drawn expressions. I had to read again and again! A storming success. You can buy it here, or purchase on the Amazon sidebar.

Beastly Pirates

The Beastly Pirates by John Kelly (12 Feb)
Another rhyming tale, but this one with extremely complex vocabulary. Don’t let that put you off though, we adored exploration of the new sounds and meanings, from colossal to rogue to halitosis! Oh yes, these are revolting pirates, but they get their comeuppance at the end, thanks to a clever child and savvy use of shadows. Many different types of pirates are depicted here, from Wicked Cass the Pirate Lass to Admiral Archibald the Angry – John Kelly plays with language with great ease – but these aren’t even the beastly pirates. The beastly pirates gobble up the others with glee, led by Captain Snapper. The pictures are as intricate as the text – packed with detail, colour and daring. Lots to look at – lots to take in. One to be savoured. You can buy it here, or purchase on the Amazon sidebar.

Follow that car

Follow That Car by Lucy Feather and Stephan Lomp (1 April)
Another one that packs in the detail, but in pictures this time, is Follow That Car. This is a completely different type of picture book – in which the idea is that the reader traces a path through the different landscapes to help the police mouse on the motorbike chase the gorilla in the yellow car. Slightly reminiscent of Richard Scarry, this is another triumph for Nosy Crow publishers. The text is merely to help the reader find a pathway through each page; the roads are as messy as spaghetti junction. The mouse has to avoid road blocks, train tracks, fallen trees, sheep and ducks on the road – there are endless dead-ends. This is another highly colourful book, bursting with animals and transport. Each page is a feast for the eyes. Loved by every reader to whom I showed it – from age 5-20!!! You can buy it here, or purchase on the Amazon sidebar.

little red and the very hungry lion

Little Red and the Very Hungry Lion by Alex T Smith (7 May)
This super twist on Little Red Riding Hood, by the clever writer and illustrator Alex T Smith, should be in every school library. Little Red Riding Hood has always been depicted as being fairly nifty and astute, from the first tellings to Roald Dahl’s protagonist who ‘whips a pistol from her knickers’. In this version, nicely transplanted into a jungle region rather than the woods, the wolf becomes a lion, and Little Red sees through his tricks immediately. Rather than conquering him, she tames him instead (after doing his hair and teeth and changing his clothes), and on the last page she is silhouetted playing skipping with the lion, her father and her poorly aunt (replacing the grandmother). Alex T Smith has had great fun depicting both Little Red’s jaunt through the jungle to reach her aunt, but also the lion’s descent into grumpiness as his plan fails and Little Red gets carried away doing his hair! It’s fun, subversive, and inspiring, showing children how to twist a tale, and use imagination to recreate old classics. Thoroughly enjoyable. You can buy it here, or purchase on the Amazon sidebar.

daddy's sandwich

Daddy’s Sandwich by Pip Jones, illustrated by Laura Hughes (7 May)
For slightly younger children, but probably one of the most adorable books I’ve spied this year. Pip Jones has captured the little girl’s language expertly, from the moment she calls ‘Daaaadddddy’ on the opening pages to her vocabulary such as ‘teeny’, and the varying sizes of text emphasising words such as ‘ages’ and ‘not’! The little girl attempts to make her Daddy a sandwich with everything in it that he likes – except this little girl is putting in EVERYTHING that Daddy likes, from his camera to his bike helmet. This is one very large sandwich! Laura Hughes’ illustrations are just the right mixture of cute and vivacious, the perfect ingredients for a picture book that any child will want to read again and again. You can buy it here, or purchase on the Amazon sidebar.

ten little dinos

Ten Little Dinosaurs by Mike Brownlow, illustrated by Simon Rickerty (7 May)
One of Huffington Post’s summer picture book picks and for good reason. This is good old fashioned fun, in a stylish and accessible book. Even the cover is great fun. It provides a rhyming poem to teach counting to anyone who has any love for dinosaurs – especially when they’re illustrated in such an endearing way. Ten fairly similar baby dinosaurs, differing in colour and the number of spikes each one has – gradually get diminished in number until the end when they are all reunited with Mummy dinosaur. It follows a similar pattern to many counting books, the ending rhyming number being always just over the page:
“Nine little dinosaurs think the world smells great!
“Slurp!” goes a hungry plant. Now there are….”
The slight apprehension that these dinosaurs might be disappearing because of some danger gives the book edge, and Simon Rickerty has plumped for simplicity in the drawings – every page is a delight of simple patterns and rainbow colours – which makes it stand out and appeal massively to the target audience. Much enjoyed…Roar! You can buy it here, or purchase on the Amazon sidebar.

 

 

A Steampunk Pirates Extract

Steampunk pirates

Adventures of the Steampunk Pirates: Attack of the Giant Sea Spiders by Gareth P Jones

Do you know what steampunk is? I didn’t, and nor did my huge Collins dictionary. Turns out neither of us is very hip, because steampunk refers to a subgenre of science fiction that brings together technology from steam-powered machinery and conjoins it with mere mortals. Gareth has rather cunningly exploited this sub-genre, given it a twist by applying it to pirates, and concocted a neat little adventure series that has piracy, machines and humour all tied up together.

I stepped into the book a little jaded of ye olde piratey tales with their pieces of eight and swashbuckling sea dogs and landlubbers, but was won over within pages. Not only is this a tight plot well told, but it also zips along with innovation and irony – after all who else other than Gareth P Jones would create sea-journeying pirates made out of metal machines, a material that sinks and rusts, and machines that rely on a fire inside to work! So for little ones reaching for their plastic dastardly daggers, this will go down a treat.

Attack of the Giant Sea Spiders portrays our Steampunk Pirates (led by Captain Clockheart with a (yep you guessed it!) clock for a heart), looking to land some treasure by spying on some French enemies. But when they set sail with Captain Inkybeard on board, they might be in for more than they bargained for. Not only does he turn against them, but it turns out the French are making giant sea spiders to serve as their army. Will the Steampunk Pirates be able to get away with all their clockwork and machinery intact?

There are many devices that delight here including the author’s penchant for interrupting the story and referring to himself in the third person (just for fun), the chapter headings, which all summarize what’s to follow in true Winnie the Pooh style, eg. “In which our heroes set off on their secret mission…secretly” rather like an amuse-bouche before the main meal; and of course, the odd pirate ditty thrown in for good measure.

For a newly independent reader, or any youngster looking for an inventive fun book, this delivers in style. Chapters are short and well-contained, the action and dialogue is fast-paced and witty, there are numerous well-crafted illustrations, and of course pirate banter a-plenty. Lastly, it’s a series! And, here, in a MinervaReads exclusive, is an extract.

Extract from the middle of Chapter One: In which we find our heroes, the Steampunk Pirates in Barbary Bay, a famous hideout for scallywags, scoundrels and salty sea dogs.

A black-bearded man entered the alehouse. He wore a large three-cornered hat with two small holes cut into the material, as though he had a pair of eyes on top of his head. He glanced around the bar, brandished his cutlass and shouted, “Good news, you washed-up sea dogs! Old Inkybeard and Nancy are recruiting again. If you want adventure and riches, step forward now and join us.”

 “Join you?” shouted one drinker. “I heard you set fire to your last ship.”

“It wasn’t even yours to sink,” said another.

“And your crew was still on board when it went down,” said a third man.

“Now, Nancy, don’t listen to the nasty men.” The pirate removed his hat to reveal a squid sitting on his head, with its tentacles wrapped around his neck and shoulders. “For those of you who are unfamiliar with my wife, this is Nancy.”

            The squid blinked.

            “Evening, Inkybeard,” said Mrs Smellgrove. “A bowl of mussels for Nancy, is it?”

“That’d be smashing, Mrs Smellgrove,” he replied. “But it’s the Dread Captain Inkybeard, if you don’t mind.”

“Oh yes, of course. Sorry,” said Mrs Smellgrove.

“Hey, laddie, why have you got a squid on your head?” asked Gadge.

            Inkybeard caressed a tentacle draped over his right shoulder. “Old Nancy’s black ink helps keep my beard from going grey, don’t it, girl? Now, we don’t need to ask who you are. The ocean is awash with rumours of you metallic marauders. What will they think of next, Nancy?” Inkybeard walked around the Steampunk Pirates, inspecting them carefully.

Highly recommended for ages 6+. If your landlubber likes the sound of this one, you can buy it here or on the Amazon sidebar, and also treat yourself to the first in the series here, Adventures of the Steampunk Pirates: The Leaky Battery Sets Sail.

leaky battery sets sail

Number three: Clash of the Rival Robots publishes August 2015. With thanks to Little Tiger Press for providing the review copy and giving permission for the extract.