Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Ol' Chumbucket's Book Club

On our Talk Like a Pirate Day Web site, I review books – but not just any books. "Ol' Chumbucket's Book Club" focuses on pirate books of course, and you'd be amazed how many there are. And more coming all the time. Right now I have six sitting on my desk to finish writing about, and the first two of those are below.

Pirate books run the gamut from history to swashbucklers to romance to picture books for the kiddies. I've read some great stuff. But I will not write a bad review. If I don't like a book, I keep my mouth shut. I know how hard the business of writing is, and I honor that even when I don't like the result. It's too easy to write a quick and dirty pan, and I won't lie to you and recommend some book I think is crap. So from me it's either laurels (translated into a scale of one to five tankards of ale) or the silence of the watery grave. I've given a couple of twos over the years, but never a one.

It struck me that, since this blog is about writing and pirates it might be a another good place to post those reviews. So, here's the first pair of Ol' Chumbucket's Book Club for this site. And you can read through the back history of pirate book reviews here.

"Pirate vs. Pirate" vs. "Pirates vs. Pirates"

Two books with practically the same title arrived on my island this summer. They're both fine tomes and they're both stories of competition between some of the best pirates on the planet.

"Blast me deadlights!" I cried. "How is a gentleman rover supposed to tell them apart?"

Well here it is in a coconut shell, mates. "Pirate vs. Pirate" is a fantastic picture book for readin' to the kiddies up to about first or second grade, I'd reckon, while "Pirates vs. Pirates" can entertain the crew in roughly the fifth grade range all the way up to adults.

"Pirate vs. Pirate" – by Mary Quattlebaum, with illustrations by Alexandra Boiger – tells the story of Bad Bart, the meanest, baddest pirate on this side of the Atlantic, and Mean Mo, the roughest, toughest pirate in the Pacific. They both want the world title, so Bart sails his ship and Mo steers hers towards each other. When they meet, it's a titanic competition for ultimate supremacy of the pirate world. But the two are so evenly matched there's only one way this battle royale can end.

There's a real sense of "Anything You Can Do I Can Do Better," as man and woman pit their strength and wits and buccaneer bonafides. As contest after contest ends in a tie, their animosity turns into grudging respect, and then into something more. I don't want to give anything away, but as they say, it's a story of sharing and caring like no other. There might be an "Afterschool Special" in there somewhere.

I love the book, and yer nippers will get a big kick out of it whether they're boys or girls. But my favorite part is the illustrations. We have been told that Mary Quattlebaum and her husband are HUGE fans of Talk Like a Pirate Day and our source said "you and Slappy are 'as gods' to them." So maybe it's just a coincidence or maybe it was a subconscious thing – or maybe it was an out and out tribute – but Bad Bart looks EXACTLY like Cap'n Slappy. I mean a lot. Bart IS Slappy, if you ask me.

Anyway, "Pirate vs. Pirate" is a fine read for the wee ones, who'll enjoy the zany contest for piractical supremacy, and get a warm fuzzy all over as the rivalry becomes something else.

"Pirates vs. Pirates," on the other hand, is all about which age gave us the best pirate. Imagine a fight to the death between a Viking raider and a Barbary corsair, or a Buccaneer and an ancient Cilician. Who would win and why? And who would be crowned the ultimate one-on-one fighting pirate champion?

Award-winning author Richard Platt imagines bouts among 10 such rivals and then crowns a champion. There is no main text, it's all breakout boxes, illustrations, foldouts and factoids. It's quite a fancy package, reminiscent of the TV series "Deadliest Warrior."

Platt envisions 10 contenders from throughout the long history of piracy – four of whom would fall under the rubric of "classic pirates," a Caribbean privateer from 1580, a Buccaneer from 1610, a Roundsman (who cruised "on the round" between the Caribbean and the Indian Ocean) from 1700 and a Golden-Age Freebooter from 1720. He pits them in action in five fights (Viking fans won't be happy, their man falls to the Barbary Corsair surprisingly quickly.) Technology plays its role; the bronze sword and shield of a "Sea Person" from 1100 B.C.E. were no match for the pistol and steel blade of a privateer.

But the ultimate winner (no spoilers here!) owes as much to his tactical skills and experience as to his weapons, and those of us who say "Arrr!" on Talk Like a Pirate Day will be glad with the way this turns out. OK, so a little spoiler.

"Pirates vs. Pirates" is a good compendium of some of of the world's top seagoing raiders, with insight into their characters, weapons and history, although the author makes the point that this is about face-to-face solo fighting. The Chinese pirates' swarming fleet actions are not taken into account, or the privateers' tactics of cutting out a single galleon from the treasure fleet. This is man to man – even when they're women.

Together, "Pirate v. Pirate" and "Pirates vs. Pirates" covers the entire age spectrum.

"Pirate vs. Pirate" gets 5 full mugs o' grog, I liked it as much as I've liked almost any picture book I've seen in the last 30 years (and as the father of six, I've seen a LOT of picture books.) "Pirates vs. Pirates" gets 4 mugs. I enjoyed it, but I liked the whimsy of the other book just a bit more.

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