Pirates by David Harrison and Dan Burr

In Pirates, a collection of poems by David Harrison, adventure on the high seas was only a small part of life. The rest was boredom, bullets, and brutality.

Pirates by David Harrison, illustrations by Dan Burr. Boyds Mill Press, 2008, 40 pages.

Reading Level: Middle grades, ages 8-10

Recommended for: ages 8-14

NOTE: Pirates is a recommended book for middle graders in our “Hope on the Horizon” summer reading challenge.

Times were hard for some men./ They slept in places/ roaches would snub,/ ate when they were able,/ drank when they could . . .

It was such men as these, not the honest tradesmen or adventure-loving schoolboy, who signed on to a pirate crew. (You’re rotten through and through?/ Ye’ll do.)  The overwhelming impression readers will receive, in this picture book by acclaimed poet David Harrison and painter Dan Burr, is that a pirate’s life was a far cry from a Disney movie or cartoon. Only desperate men (and yes, a few women) signed on for the promise of an equal share in the booty. For most of them, their short career was marked by days on end of hard work and stupefying boredom, punctuated by extreme danger when chasing a prize and the threat of hanging if ever caught. Harrison captures the pirate life in a series of poems: strict rules, terrible food, shipboard flogging, thieving, and eventual justice at the end of a rope.

The heyday of classic 18th-century piracy, as we learn in the Author Note, was brief: only about 20 years in the early 1700s. But pirates have always existed upon the lawless no-mans-land of the sea, all the way down to today. The hyper-realism of the text is more than matched by the illustrations, with extraordinary detail and a lifelike cast of characters. It’s great fun for reading aloud, with lots of Har! and Arg! thrown in. (Also a good way to get in practice for International Talk Like a Pirate day, September 19.)

Overall rating: 4.25 (out of 5)

  • Worldview/moral value: 4 (Crime definitely does not pay.)
  • Artistic value: 4.5

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Also at Redeemed Reader:

  • Harrison and Burr collaborated on another picture book featuring an iconic figure in history: Cowboys.
  • For a lighter look at imaginary pirates, see our review of the picture book, Captain Jack and the Pirates.
  • History buffs will enjoy The Whydah: a Pirate Ship Feared, Lost, and Found, with its many fascinating details of a ship once captained by “Black Sam Bellamy,” lost off the coast of Cape Code, and uncovered by treasure seekers of the late 20th century.

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Janie is the VERY senior staff writer for Redeemed Reader, as well as a long-time contributor to WORLD Magazine and an author of nine books for children. The rest of the time she's long-distance smooching on her four grandchildren (not an easy task). She lives with her equally senior husband of almost-fifty years in the Ozarks of Missouri.

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