Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Ready for Talk Like a Pirate Day? Avast & Heave To: It's Pirate Bob!

If there's a pirate fan in your family, Kathryn Lasky's Pirate Bob provides a different take on the often-parodied life of the buccaneer.

In fact, the book is somewhat of a dichotomy in itself. The skillful watercolor illustrations by David Clark are alternately hilarious and beautiful. Pirates are dressed in typically seafaring style with colorful sashes, striped pants, and a variety of headgear. The captain, too short to carry off a parrot on his shoulder, affects a parakeet instead, and Pirate Bob and his friend Yellow Jack are both ugly and appealing mates. Much information about life aboard a pirate ship is carefully detailed in the drawings, and the scenes of the pirate ship preying upon a hapless galleon under the "rogue's moon" are strangely and serenely beautiful.

Kathryn Lasky (Newbery award winner for Sugaring Time) has obviously done her historical research and it shows. Pirate Bob and his mateys are depicted not so much as jolly marauders about to sing a chorus of "Dead Man's Chest," but as skilled workers in a dangerous industry. Bob is an experienced specialist whose regular assignment is to cut the steering gear of the vessel under attack; his best buddy Yellow Jack is the expert in disabling the enemy's cannons. When he's not grappling with a galleon, Bob worries about advancing in his pay grade, job security, and his profit-sharing contract, not to mention his retirement package (to be, er, deposited on a secure shore)! Lasky doesn't treat her pirates as cartoon characters; she clearly points out the dangers of pirating, including death in battle, hanging, or scurvy (the disease which makes Yellow Jack yellow) and the chronic distrust between even the best of friends on board.

Although this picture book is aimed at the Kindergarten through Grade 3 reader, the vocabulary is so authentically historical (specie, scurvy, galleon, grappling) that it will find its best audience among savvy third or fourth graders. (Accelerated Reader level is 3.7.)

For slightly younger or less knowledgeable pirate fanciers, try Tough Boris, by Mem Fox, for a kinder, gentler look at life under the Jolly Roger. Like Pirate Bob it colorfully illustrates the adventure of the buccaneering life, but Boris is a tough guy who is not afraid to cry when his parrot passes away.

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  • ummm... how does "Pirate Bob" address the usual pirate MO of murdering the entire crew of the captured vessel? I take it they sort of soft-pedal that.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10:57 AM  

  • YARRRRRR! (That's Pirate talk for "indeed".)

    By Anonymous Mister Snitch!, at 11:16 AM  

  • How well researched can her book be if Lasky equates 'scurvy' (vitamin C deficiency, which causes bleeding gums, tooth loss, etc.) with 'yellow jack' (yellow fever, a mosquito-borne disease which causes jaundice)?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:27 AM  

  • Sounds like a great book to me! The more children's books about pirates, the more kids will become pirates.

    Cap'n Billy the Butcher

    By Blogger Cap'n Billy, at 4:38 PM  

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