How I Became a Pirate


Written by Melinda Long, Illustrated by David Shannon

Harcourt Books, 2003

Pirates have green teeth – when they have any teeth at all.  I know about pirates, because one day, when I was at the beach building a sand castle and minding my own business, a pirate ship sailed into view.

The plot in a nutshell:  A boy spends a day aboard a pirate ship and discovers there’s good and bad sides to piracy

Jeremy Jacob is playing on the beach when the pirate ship comes ashore, having taken a wrong turn at Bora Bora.  The pirates see that he’s a good digger and bring him back onto the ship with them.  Captain Braid Beard shows him the chest of gold and jewels and explains that they are looking for a good place to bury it.  At first, Jeremy Jacob enjoys it, especially since he doesn’t need to eat vegetables, use table manners or brush his teeth.  But when he gets ready for bed and finds out that no one will tuck him in, read him a story or comfort him when a terrible storm whips up, he decides that piracy is not for him.  So he directs the pirates to a perfect spot to bury the treasure – his backyard.   With the treasure buried, the pirates thank him and sail away.

Captain Braid Beard is brave indeed, to put all his weight on the peg leg.

Captain Braid Beard is brave indeed, to put all his weight on the peg leg.

The basic plot, of a kid getting to live out a fantasy and finding out that it’s not all it was cracked up to be, is a classic and familiar one.  Author Melinda Long puts the pirate spin on it, which is a perfect fit, since pirates are such a familiar and complex archetype.  From a child’s point of view, the concept of living a life without all the nuisances your parents force on you seems pretty idyllic, but there’s always a price to pay in these stories and Ms. Long smartly hits it home by making it something that everyone can relate to – that wonderful childhood comfort of having someone to tuck you in and read you a story.

Illustrator David Shannon says that he’s always had a fascination with villains and that shows in the fun he has in painting this collection of pirates.  He draws them with colorful clothes and whimsical (sometimes dull-witted) expressions that never give you the idea that Jeremy Jacob is ever in any danger from these guys.   A musical version of this story has been written for the stage and Captain Braid Beard and his cohorts appear in a sequel and an activity book, which might interest any aspiring pirates in your house.

And what did we learn?  What I take away from this book is that getting the chance to live the life of your dreams often makes you realize how good your life is already.



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