A Treasure Chest of Pirate Books
There’s a dang national day for everything now; it’s ridiculous (and a little bit amazing too, especially if you celebrate important dates with cake like I do.) But the story behind the establishment of National Talk Like a Pirate Day is one of the greatest things I’ve ever heard, probably because it’s explained by Dave Barry, king of everything that’s good and funny in the world. Below I’ve included two links for you. I urge you to use these links and read the stories behind National Talk Like a Pirate Day. To quote Stephen Colbert, “you’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll lose ten pounds.”
The story of how it all happened (or, as I like to call it: The Preamble to Dave Barry): How It All Started
How it all happened, according to Dave Barry: Arrrrr! Talk like a pirate — or prepare to be boarded
Note that that first link (talklikeapirate.com) includes a special “How To” guide to set you up for the big day. Or, feel free to peruse our list of kid-friendly pirate books below, many of which will familiarize your whole family with the very best in pirate lingo.
P is for Pirate: A Pirate Alphabet written by Eve Bunting and illustrated by John Manders
This is the pirate book find I’m most excited about! I was worried this book might be a little too advanced for my 3.5 year old, but I was pleased to discover that this book easily grows with the reader. The book works through pirate vocabulary in alphabetical order, with short 4-6 line poems serving as the anchor piece of each letter’s page. For example: “R is for Revenge (Queen Anne’s Revenge) / It was Blackbeard’s flagship but it went aground. / After all these many years its wreck has now been found.” These poems are perfect for younger readers, especially when accompanied by the whimsical illustrations (I don’t know how Manders managed to create illustrations that are simultaneously comic and realistic, but he did it, and they are a blast.) But as an added bonus, you’ll also find much more in depth, non-fiction text about the topic at hand and adventure-loving kids will love to learn about all things pirate as they get older and move past the more simplistic rhymes. For example, on “R,” I learned that “It was said that Blackbeard, a skillful sailor, gave orders to the helmsman to take a course that steered the ship into the shoals. It is unclear why, though many think he wanted to get rid of his crew.”
I judge alphabet books like this by the quality of their Q, X and Z choices, and all three of these were superb. In fact, “Q” was my favorite page as it detailed the “Queen of the Pirates, Grace O’Malley” and other women pirates. “X” told of the misconceptions of “X marks the spot,” and Z is the page to read for #nationaltalklikeapirateday, starting with “Zounds!” Highly, highly recommend this one!
The Old Pirate of Central Park by Robert Priest
Candid, #honestopinion moment: not my very favorite. The description inside the dust jacket sounded perfectly charming. “Inspired by memories of his past, the old pirate has built a marvelous replica of his sailing ship […] But when he takes it to the park to launch it in the pond, he finds the seas are not so friendly.” A tiny replica of his old ship? I’m with you. A battle in Central Park between a retired pirate and an old queen? Yes. But there are some strange misdirections here that didn’t really contribute to the plot, character development, or tone, and it ended up just being more weird than charming.
I’ll tell you what I loved though. Ask me the name of the old queen’s ship. Go ahead, ask me. It’s the S.S. Uppity Duchess. Now if that doesn’t sound like the name of one of the drag queens at the bachelorette party I threw in San Francisco, then I don’t know what does.
The Pirate Cruncher by Jonny Duddle
Part rhyming tale, part pirate comic (humorous speech-bubbles and all). This is another pirate book in which the end papers really shine, but then, who doesn’t love a good map, especially when it contains octopus tentacles, pirate ships, and a treasure chest! (I’m thinking of starting a petition for all books to include a map, Game of Thrones style. If you’re not with me, you’re against me.)
This book has a lot going on; it’s sometimes a little overwhelming to read aloud, especially if you’re trying to settle down before bedtime. It’s a superb choice for an afternoon story time though (or perhaps a school read) because it’s impossible to read without being loud, fun, and animated. To directly quote from page 8: “HOORAH!”
A Pirate’s Guide to First Grade written by Jame Preller and illustrated by Greg Ruth
I’m typically a fan of very timeless, classic style picture books, so I wasn’t convinced I would like a book about pirates with a big yellow school bus on the front. But I did; I loved it. And more importantly, my 3.5 year old did too.
The entire book is written in pirate-ese, so it’s a perfect fit for #nationaltalklikeapirateday. And even if you are terrible at accents, you will absolutely nail pirate talk while reading this one aloud, I promise you. Somehow, Preller’s text manages to read itself in a pirate accent–you’ll barely have to try! Fun fact: my pirate accent is reminiscent of an angry Irish woman, but it convinced my daughter during this fun read aloud, and we both had a great time.
The end papers even include a handy “Pirate’s Vocabulary” glossary, including words used in the book from “Addled” and “Aft” to “Walk the Plank” and “Winks.”
Pirate Princess written by Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen and illustrated by Jill McElmurry
I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: I’m not a big fan of rhyming stories (I hated poetry while earning my English degree, too; so sue me.) But this one is a serious winner. The rhymes felt natural to read aloud (nothing forced), the story was engaging (a princess wants nothing more than to be a pirate, but finds that she’s lacking some necessary skills), and the art was rich and wonderful. I found myself continually impressed by McElmurry’s clever use of space, from pirates gathered around a table, to pirates peering down into a hole, to a vertical two-page spread showing Ms. Princess tossing her cookies from the crow’s nest (it’s not as gross as it sounds.)
Little Badger, Terror of the Seven Seas (Badger Books) written by Eve Bunting and illustrated by LeUyen Pham
A cute little book for the younger crowd. If you liked the original “Can You Do This, Old Badger,” you’ll likely enjoy this simple story of a young badger who imagines he’s a pirate, despite the doubts of the other forest animals.
Could be useful for teaching the physical qualities that make a pirate a pirate (eyepatch, parrot on the shoulder, pirate ship, and so on.)
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