Friday, November 13, 2009

Shiver me timbers

There's no shortage of Atlantic Canadian pirate stories. The Portolan Bibliography lists 20 held in the Eileen Wallace Collection alone. There's historical pirates, modern-day pirates, fantasy pirates and, heck, even space pirates. This week saw a new edition to the regional pirate canon (or cannon, if you will): The Dread Crew by Bluenose Kate Inglis.

Inglis' pirates never set foot nor sail in water; they are pirates of the backwoods roaming about rural Nova Scotia in a giant barrow, pillaging all they can find in search of the junk they need to satisfy themselves and their bureaucratic labour union. The Dreads, as they are called, are all spit and vinegar with names like Screemin' Meena and Funky Phezekiah. They stink. One is known for the maggot colony that lives in his beard. Fear and intimidation are their bailiwick. And when the Dreads speak, ... this book jumps out of convention and into pure, silly fun. Each of Inglis' pirates has a distinct voice; none relies on tired, swashbuckling cliché. My favourite is, perhaps, Ill Willie Cusson, the Acadian Huckster whose chiac masterfully blends intimidation and charm.

In many ways, The Dread Crew is an anti-pirate story dressed in the trappings of piracy. For whither the gold, the jewels, the doubloons? Inglis herself lives within spitting distance of Oak Island. She was no doubt raised on Oak Island lore and knows that any self-respecting pirate thinks of nothing but gaining and hoarding treasure. For a true pirate, any means justify a wealthy end. And yet, Inglis' Dreads are accidental environmentalists. They pillage the land looking for junk that can be refurbished and reused. Under the tutalege of gentle Joe, a retired jack-of-all-trades and the heartbeat of this novel, the Dreads learn that they can gain more by investing in community than by running rampant over top it, or as Inglis'--and my long-dead granny--put it, "you can catch more flies with honey than you can with vinegar." Yes, there is a strong message to this book, but the imaginative scope, slapstick humour and overall joyful noise of the whole package runs counter to any dread didacticism.

The illustrations by Sydney Smith are both playful and other-worldly. They are the perfect match for Inglis' belching, romping, refreshing words. The illustrations remind me at times of Barry Moser and Chris Van Allsburg with just a hint of cartoon caricature thrown in for fun.

When you are done storming the ramparts of The Dread Crew, be sure to dig up some of these other Atlantic Canadian buried treasures:

Ben Peach and the Pirates by Evelyn M. Richardson
Set in the 1840s, this novel tells the story of Ben Peach who sails from Halifax Harbour at the age of fifteen for the West Indies on a ship named the "Vernon."

The Black Joe by Farley Mowat
This historical novel set in the 1930s tells the story of two boys from a small outport community in Newfoundland who are taken on board a ship named the Black Joke and find themselves swept up into rum-running and treachery on the high seas when a gang of thieves arrives on the ship.

The Hand of Robin Squires by Joan Clark. 1977
In this illustrated historical novel, based on the Triton Alliance Company's November 23, 1971 discovery at the Oak Island site, fourteen year old Robin Squires tells the story of his family's involvement with the mystery of the island.

Pirates of the North Atlantic by William S. Crooker, 2004
Each chapter in this illustrated collection of short stories chronicles the world’s most notorious pirates and how they visited the North Atlantic from Newfoundland to Boston and Cape Breton to the Bay of Fundy. The Atlantic Canadian adventures of famous pirates such as Blackbeard, William Kidd, John Phillips, Thomas Pound, Edward Low, Bartholomew Roberts and the pirate couple of Edward and Margaret Jordan are all revealed as well as the mystery of the Isle Haute, the Saladin, and the suspicious story of the Mary Celeste.

The Secret Treasures of Oak Island by J. J. Pritchard, 2002
This mystery novel tells the story of Emma and Jake Morgan who spend their summer visiting travelling with their uncle to Oak Island, Nova Scotia and try to discover the truth behind the treasure of the Oak Island Money Pit.

Torrie and the Pirate Queen by K.V. Johansen, 2005
Torrie, a magical being and the oldest Old Thing of the Wild Forest, tells the story of an adventure aboard a pirate ship. The captain, a twelve-year-old girl named Anna, plans to use her grandfather's hidden treasure to rescue her father, who has been kidnapped by the Pirate Queen, Nevilla.

The Trouble with Jamie by Lorrie McLaughlin, 1966
This historical illustrated chapter book tells the story of charismatic Jamie, a young boy growing up in Liverpool, Nova Scotia in the 1800s. Jamie thirsts for adventure and finds just that when he accidentally stows away on a ship named the Rover.

The Wizard's Eye by Andrew M. Scott, 1993
This illustrated chapter book is an adventure story about cousins Paul and Marie from East Sable on Nova Scotia's South Shore who are researching the pirate Red Randall when they meet a mysterious Major with a particular interest in the man.

And although it's not Atlantic Canadian, the 1922 collection, Great Pirate Stories edited by Joseph Lewis French and published by Tudor Publishing Co. of New York is a must for any aspiring deck-swabber.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Mum's the word

There are numerous, excellent wordless or near-wordless picture books out there that foster solitary reading for the pre-literate child or, better yet, that enable children to interact with an adult whose sole focus can now be on pictures instead of words. Wordless picture books help to level the playing field between adult and child, and they give imaginative children free reign in building their own stories. They're not just for young children either; many are aimed at older children specifically. Others are acutely aware of the adult reader. No matter what the target audience, though, good art is never meant for any one category of person alone.

You can't go wrong with any of these:

The Carl books by Alexandra Day wherein a beloved Rottweiler minds the baby, while the baby's mother gets on with her errands and her life. There's at least a dozen in the series now.

Eric Rohman's wordless or near wordless picture books:

Time Flies depicts the journey of a bird through a prehistoric, dinosaur-laden landscape. It's a must for any dinosaur-crazed kid.

My Friend Rabbit should've been left alone as a book. The TV show knock-off is all talk, talk, talk. Who needs words when the pictures say it all?

Peter Spier's Noah's Ark and Rain, Raymond Briggs' The Snowman and Quentin Blake's Clown are classics in the genre,

as are Pat Hutchins' Changes Changes and a personal favourite of mine, Picnic, by Emily Arnold McCully.

Both these works have been adapted into excellent short films that have now become part of the Scholastic video collection.

More recent works include several of the books by David Wiesner. My daughter loves Tuesday, Flotsam and especially Sector 7.

There's also Australian Jeannie Baker's Window

And finally, here are two that are colour-themed:

Jae-Soo Liu's The Yellow Umbrella and Barbara Lehman's The Red Book.

There's also books like Chris van Allsburg's The Mysteries of Harris Burdick and the Imagine a Day/Night/Place books that use the paintings of Rob Gonaslaves. These books are neither wordless nor do they tell a continuous narrative; instead, they provide an evocative caption for each illustration that prompts the reader to take control of the storytelling. It's like having 10-20 individual stories per book.

There's plenty more books in the wordless genre than the ones I've listed here. Do you have a favourite? Have you read any of these with children? Did you enjoy the experience or did you find yourself awkwardly sputtering, trying to fill in the story? Do you leave them lying around for kids to stumble on? Pack them in the car for long road trips? Use them as prompts for crafts or writing assignments? Tell me. I'd like to know.