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.


  1. What a great review. Did you read the Dread Crew to your daughter? I'm just wondering what the right age is to begin reading longer illustrated novels?

  2. It sounds FANTASTIC. I can't wait to read it to my kids!

  3. We read The Hand of Robin Squires in school in grade 7 or 8. I loved it.

  4. Kate: M and I recently started reading chapter books together but nothing so long or complex as The Dread Crew. It's pitched more to the 8-12 demographic.

    M, who is not quite 5 is more suited to Stuart Little, My Father's Dragon, and our most recent conquest, Lois Lowry's Gooney Bird Greene. For a 3-4 year old I highly recommend the works of Arnold Lobel for read-aloud. Oh and James Marshall's George and Martha.

  5. Oh, fun. Loved seeing your take on it. Thank you Sue! Fantastic job.

  6. Great review! I can't wait for my copies to arrive!

  7. Ah, in time for Christmas giving. The first book I ever read in this genre was Swallows and Amazons -- and I still think it rocks, even if you do have to do a lot of explaining.
    Little Stuff will not let one expression or unknown artifact go by. Ever. And when I read to her, she takes the new concepts home and tells her parents all about them.

  8. canon/cannon. You did it to me again. Delayed snorts of laughter.


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