Written and Illustrated by Robert Priest
Houghton Mifflin, 1999
In a tall ornate New York City apartment building, there lives an old retired Pirate.
The plot in a nutshell: A retired pirate tries to relive his high seas adventures through a miniature boat in a pond at Central Park, but finds that he’s not the only one commanding the seas.
Oh, librarians…you get me every time! Across the top of the shelves for the picture books, there are display racks with books the librarians have chosen to feature. And even when I’m there looking for specific books, if a book’s cover catches my eye, it’s going home with me. So it was with The Old Pirate of Central Park, whose cover grabbed me right away. I liked the unusual art style and have not yet read a bad story set in Central Park.
The plot of this book is unique and has a charm that will appeal to older people as well as children. The aging pirate main character takes his miniature pirate ship to the Sailboat Pond at Central Park in order to feel relevant again. But his fun is interrupted when a retired Queen shows up with her own ship and war breaks out between them. (Hey, Queens apparently need to feel relevant, too!) The sea battle creates chaos for everyone around them and only comes to an halt when the two senior citizens realize they need a nap and end up calling a truce. The book ends with them sharing a park bench. Seriously, who couldn’t fall for the adorableness of this story?
Author/illustrator Robert Priest (not the Canadian poet who has also written some children’s books) uses airbrushed enamel on clayboard to create extraordinary pictures with simple colors and lines. Most of the lines in the pictures are white instead of black and add details and shading over the solid colors. There are a lot of images of iconic New York sights, like buildings and taxis, which help set the story’s location. Plus there’s a butler named Jeeves, which is pretty much always going to be a good sign.
And what did we learn? What I take away from this book is that trying to relive your glory days can be an excellent reminder of how glorious it is right now.