Sometimes You Just Want to Say “Aaargh!”


As a mother who has found herself standing up on couch (more than once I will admit), holding up my right arm and yelling “Aaargh” (the embarrassing things we do for our children…), I can certainly relate to Susan Fry’s latest installment. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do:

Why, oh, why, are children relentlessly drawn to pirates?

I’d like to think it’s the clothing – the dashing feathered hat, the billowing white shirt, and the rakish eye patch. I could even understand a fascination with romantically rustic ships. And ropes of pearls and emerald necklaces do have their appeal.

But, deep down, I know the truth. The kids want the violence, the thievery, and, above all, the freedom that comes with being a pirate. They want clashing swords, stolen loot, enemies walking the plank, and no mothers on board to tell them what to do.

Although my kids think the words “poop deck” are hilarious, I know they’d find bilge water – and most other aspects of an actual pirate’s life – much less amusing. That’s probably why many pirate books try to tread a fine line. They have to depict the violence and gore that kids find so fascinating, but still be suitable for children. Sadly, most books either wind up wallowing in blood, or else making the pirates “nice” at the end. Who wants to read about nice pirates? Not my boys.

So give these books a try. Sometimes an “Aarr!” can be more satisfying than an “Om.”

On a Pirate Ship, by Sarah Courtauld and Benji Davies. The book manages to keep the romance of a pirate’s life – wind puffing into enormous sails, twinkling stars, and a kindly pirate captain – while completely glossing over the less unsavory moments. During a storm and a battle, for example, no one gets hurt. The sailors on a conquered ship even choose to become pirates themselves. Grownups will get a kick out of jokes that will go over kids’ heads, like the party scene where the pirates celebrate with “hot, spicy drinks.”

How I Became a Pirate, by Melinda Long, illustrated by David Shannon. A little boy becomes a pirate and revels in his new freedom – there’s no need to say “please” or brush his teeth. But he also sees what he’s missing – being tucked into bed and having someone care about him during a scary storm. While the pirates remain nasty and mean, the boy is able to see what appeals to him about their lifestyle, and what doesn’t. He actually makes a choice to go home for soccer practice.

Archie and the Pirates, by Marc Rosenthal. When Archie, a monkey, is shipwrecked on a desert island, he’s not discouraged. Instead, with MacGyver-like ingenuity, Archie manages to build a house even Martha Stewart might envy. I especially like the bed that converts to a breakfast table. Archie also makes friends with an ibis and a tiger, and everyone’s happy – until pirates arrive and capture the tiger. While most pirate battles are glossed over in kids’ books, Rosenthal goes into wonderful detail about the war the animals wage, from designing and building catapults to creating a fake monkey army out of coconuts. It’s refreshing to have a book in which the pirates are actually the enemy, and roundly defeated!

See Inside Pirate Ships, By Rob Lloyd Jones and Jörg Mühle. Designed by Stephen Wright. Expert Advice by Simon Stephens. Yes, it took a lot of people to create this book, and it shows – the level of detail is astounding. Lifting the seemingly-infinite flaps is satisfying and educational for adults and children alike. The book shows aspects of maritime life not often seen in children’s books, such as ships being raised off beaches with ropes and pirates of different eras and cultures. The book does warn the reader, however, that “Most of the pirates in this book are mean and nasty.” While the little cartoon figures look cute at first glance, this book definitely falls on the less savory side of the line I mentioned earlier. Guns are fired, people are wounded, and blood flows freely. You may want to offer this one only to older children.

Susan Fry is a writer and mother in the San Francisco Bay Area. She’s written for Stanford Magazine, salon, the San Jose Mercury News, and many other publications.

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