Colin McNaughton's Captain Abdul's Pirate School
Children's book review by Suzanne Holland
Quick: What is a pirate’s favorite letter of the alphabet? RRrrrrrgh!!
If you love pirate adventures and are taken with tales of derring do on the high seas, then this is not the story for you. If, however, you are fond of humorous, tongue in cheek, not so scary pirate stories and you are between the ages of five and ten, then this is definitely a great book.
Pirate School is a fanciful tale of boarding school for would be pirates. The book’s main character, Pickles, is sent there because Dad wants his child to be tough, not a wimpy artist and poet. Pickles is dispatched with only Spud, the dog for company.
There, Pickles is introduced to a scurrilous, scruffy band of pirates who will be the teachers. The other students are hilarious looking and parents and older children will recognize famous pirate names, such as Henry Morgan, Anne Bonney, and Jack Rackham. Trust me, these are pirates in their formative years!!
McNaughton's illustrations are bright and bold with a lot of detail. (The class alphabet wall is not to be missed!) This is a book best read with a small group as the minute details can be lost if you are looking at it with a large group.
The older children will appreciate the humorous conversation balloons. Younger children might not quite understand the satirical tone of the teachers (“were you cheating, boy? Good!! Go to the head of the class!!!) but children older than six will delight in pointing out the obvious contradictions.
The plot thickens as Pickles overhears the pirates talking about their plan to kidnap the children and ransom them. Courageous Pickles leads the mutiny against the pirates and they are quickly tied up. One mean looking pirate even calls for his Mommy!!
The children decide to have a real adventure and sail for the West Indies. The pirates are dumped on the dock, notes left for the parents, and the crew set sail. True sailors will get a kick out of the interpretative directions, as the shouts of “Fluke the orlop!” and “Clovehitch the sheepshank”! fill the air.
Six months later, the children are living the life of conscientious pirates, as they steal only from other presumably mean pirates.
Everybody is happy; the parents are happy because they are sent all the captured treasure, Captain Abdul is happy because he claimed the mutiny was all part of his method and thus has lots of new students. The children are happy because, like Peter Pan, they can do whatever they want forever.
And Pickles?? Pickles is the happiest one of them all. Captain of the ship, poet, and artist, Maisy Pickles is the happiest girl ever!
I confess to loving this ending and watching the expressions on the children’s faces when they realize the fearless leader is a girl! Some are surprised and others delighted and some don’t bat an eye. However, when it comes to Captain Abdul's Pirate School, they all say:
“Can we read it again?”
Read more of Suzanne's book reviews.
Best Children's Books - Find, Read or Write home page.