How I Became a Pirate by Melinda Long, Illustrated by David Shannon
Posted by bookscoops on May 22, 2009
So, I (Holly here) was digging through a bunch of books at a store one recent day, and low and behold, shiver-me timbers, I found this great book, that my kids let me hold for about half a second. My two year old had me read the book for nap time, bed time and two times in the morning within 45 minutes of waking up. Then, he took it and hid under the table with it, slowly turning pages, studiously learning about pirates.
When I proposed the idea to Cari, she wasn’t so sure about it being a double scoop because of all the news about pirates recently. But, after the resounding approval of her daughter, we decided it would be the perfect opportunity to discuss one of the controversial aspects of children’s literature. Where do you draw the line between reality and imagination?
What captured your interest?
Holly: I like the illustration on the title page, because it obviously is a little boy pretending. Then you turn the page and you enter Jeremy Jacob’s imaginary world.
Cari: I really like that the pirates have green teeth, and the pirates sing a little off-key.
What was your favorite part?
Cari: I think one of my favorite parts is the part where Jeremy Jacobs talks about how carrots are not allowed on the ship and there is no Spinach anywhere on board. Not to mention you don’t have to use please and thank you.
Holly: My boys like the pirate with two eye patches and how he’s constantly flipping one patch up to see what’s going on.
Cari: I also like the captain’s name – Braid Beard.
What is your favorite illustration?
Holly: One of my favorite pictures, is Jeremy Jacob trying to go to sleep in the middle of the pirates with a pirate squished next to him with his mouth wide open sharing his stinky green teeth breath and then a putrid pirate foot dangling in his face. The look on the kid’s face says, “I want my mom!”
Cari: Yeah and then Jeremy Jacob wonders why they don’t have anything to read on the ship.
Holly: All they have is maps. After that he doesn’t even bother asking for a good night kiss.
Cari: I like, on the page with the pillow fight, where Captain Braid Beard says pirates don’t have to wear pajamas ‘unless you want to’ and there is a pirate changing into pajamas in the background.
Holly: Yeah me too and the pirate is wearing sailboat pajamas, that would make so much sense to a little boy. You always have pajamas with pictures of what you love. I mean, don’t you?
What qualifies you to be a pirate in kid’s minds?
Cari: I like how quickly Jeremy Jacobs learns to speak ‘pirate’. He thinks that means he’s official.
Holly: The one skill the pirates are looking for is digging. I think it reveals that on a subconscious level Jeremy’s not sure about being a pirate, but he has this digging skill that might be useful to pirates, so he could maybe help them out for a while.
Cari: Jeremy Jacob doesn’t really get what pirates do completely, hmm now my daughter is hearing our conversation and wants to know what’s going on. She loved the book.
What did the pirates remind you of?
Holly: I love the illustrations, they are so vivid and fun and Braid Beard is so jolly looking that if he had a different jacket, white hair and teeth (not green) he could pass as a certain famous holiday character.
Cari: I really like the illustrations too! And I love the map to Jeremy Jacob’s Backyard where they ultimately decide to bury the treasure.
Holly: The map is a ‘treasure’ in and of itself.
Cari: I like also whenever the pirate captain says something they all repeat it back. Giving a sing-song feel to the story. And the map even has a compass rose.
Holly: Jeremy Jacob gives them the idea to bury the treasure in his yard while he’s standing next to the broken mast. Then when the pirates are sailing away after burying the treasure, the mast is suddenly intact. It gives a dream feel to the book where things are not always logical.
Holly: David Shannon must have had a lot of fun illustrating this book.
Cari: Oh I agree I think he is a lot of fun,
Holly: Don’t you know some interesting things about pirates, Cari?
Cari: I know of some Pirates from the pages of history that depending what ‘side’ you are on aren’t necessarily bad – Sir Francis Drake, for example. I think pirates can be a good thing sometimes. Children use imaginary play to make sense of the world around them. Recently pirates have been in the news lately and it has not been such a good thing.
Holly: So, maybe this book could help kids make some sense of what they hear on the news. I like that at the end you can see that this is a little boy who is on a pirate soccer team and he is trying to process how to be a good pirate so he can be a really good pirate soccer player.
Cari & Holly: We both really feel for the families who are having to deal with pirates and missing/captured loved ones. How do you help your kids deal with things they hear about on the news or from friends?
And now for a trip down memory lane:
Holly: We once had pirates in our backyard. Cari saw them, didn’t you?
Cari: I don’t know if you could technically say I saw them.
Holly: What? Are you saying I’ve believed in a lie all these years?
Cari: Well, at age five when you find treasure in the sandbox it’s almost like seeing pirates.
Holly: We did find quite a treasure. I remember so clearly when we had just moved and were exploring our new backyard and, of course, digging in the sandbox . . .
Many, many years ago, we won’t divulge exactly how long:
Cari: Look Holly! Look! I found something.
Holly: What is it? What is it?(gasp)
Cari: A penny! It’s a penny!
Holly: Woah! Let’s see if there are any more.
(both glancing at the sun baked crusted sand)
Cari: We need some shovels.
Holly: We don’t have any. Remember you hid our shovels and pails in the field at our old house and they disappeared forever?
Cari: No I didn’t!
Holly: Yes you did.
Cari: Well, I hid them, but you were supposed to find them, so it’s your fault they’re lost.
Holly: I never wanted to play hide and seek with them! It’s your fault, so you go get something to use.
Cari: All right. I’ll go get some spoons from the drawer by the dishwasher. Mom won’t catch me I’m super sneaky.
(both resume digging with shiny silver spoons)
Holly: Look! I found a nickel!
Cari: I found a nickel and some pennies.
Holly: Wow! We’re going to be rich soon if we keep finding money. I wonder where it all came from?
Cari: Well, let’s think a minute. We are finding treasure in our sand box. Sand boxes are for digging up things that are buried. Buried treasure equals. . . Pirates!
Cari: Shh! Be quiet, you don’t want them to hear you. They might be coming back to dig up their treasure and if they know we got it first we might get captured!
Holly: I don’t want them to get my money.
Cari: It’s our money. Besides, we’re going to build a trap for them.
Holly: A trap? What kind of trap?
Cari: First, we need to dig a big hole in the ground. Like on Swiss Family Robinson.
Holly: We need bigger spoons.
Cari: That’s not all. We’re going to mix some quick sand and some poisonous bark and leaves with water at the bottom of our pit. Then, we’ll sprinkle dry sand on top to disguise it.
Holly: Let’s get the boys to help. We can have them get the hose. That way we won’t get in trouble for turning on the water.
Working at a feverish pace all afternoon, the two foot deep ‘Pit’ is finally finished.
Cari: (sprinkling a last handful of sand) Perfect!
Holly: Do you think we’ll catch a pirate tonight?
Cari: It might take a couple of days.
Holly: Should we try to sneak out and spy on the sand box tonight?
Cari: Only if you want to be captured by the pirates.
Holly: No, I don’t want to be captured, but how are we gunna know?
Cari: Oh, I will know if anyone messes up my, uh our pit.
Cari: (whispering) Holly, there’s someone outside our window. It’s a pirate, look!
Holly: (covers over head) No way, I’m not showing my face. Those pirates can take you.
Cari: Holly! Look! I see eyes right there! Ahhh! (covers now over both heads)
Cari: Go get Mom and Dad.
Holly: No way, I’m not moving. You go get them.
Cari: No, I’m too scared. I’m not moving either.
Cari: You’re the baby.
Holly: No, you are.
Cari: You are.
Holly: You are.
Cari: (gasp!) He’s gone.
Holly: Whew! I was getting hot under those covers. Do you think he’ll come back?
Cari: Probably not, he was just checking to make sure we didn’t have the treasure in our room.
Holly: It’s a good thing we hid it real good.
Cari: Yeah. Go to sleep. I’m tired.
Holly: Okay. Good night.
Cari: Good night.
In the morning out at the sand box:
Holly: There’s nothing in the trap!
Cari: They must be smarter pirates than I thought. Let’s see if there’s any treasure left.
Holly: Okay, here’s your spoon. Let’s get to work!
Cari: Argh! Dig for treasure!
Holly: Aye Aye Captain! Dig for Treasure!
There is a second book out entitled Pirates Don’t Change Diapers (which Cari and her daughter think is a lot of fun too!)