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Monday, August 9, 2010

Lives of the Pirates, written by Kathleen Krull and illustrated by Kathryn Hewitt. Harcourt, Thomas Allen, 2010. $26.50 ages 8 and up

"We do know that pirates were not all alike. Most did swear a lot. But which one got loot by sneaking her hand under the mattresses of sleeping captains? Who made his crew drink their own urine? Which one spent his days on deck wearing pajamas? Which patiently pulled a parasitic worm out of his leg - all two feet of it? What was the oddest thing about our hairiest pirate? Who kept her pirate ship tethered to the bedpost in her castle? Who personally led his crew in religious services twice a day? Who provoked the most mutinies against him? And which pirate sprinkled her troops with garlic water before raids?"

What is it about pirates? Why are we so interested in their lives, their deaths and everything in between? If her introduction to the pirates in her newest book has you pondering the answers to the above questions, you should know that one hour ago I did not have the answers. Now, I do!

As in her previous books about the lives of musicians, writers, artists, athletes, presidents, and extraordinary women, Kathleen Krull has researched the lives of some of history's most notorious pirates and provides a most entertaining and informative look as their exploits. I found it accessible for her target audience, and I think it could easily lead to eager researchers wanting to know more about one or two of those presented. To that end, the author has included a 'for further reading' page in the back matter.

I loved that she finished with Long John Silver, not a real pirate, as she is quick to point out. But, Long John is the first pirate I ever met, and I still remember the terror I felt as I read that book and tried to picture him, his minions, Jim Hawkins and the rest of the characters who peopled his amazing adventure. She reminds us that some of what we believe about pirates today comes from Robert Louis Stevenson's fertile imagination. Witness Captain Jack Sparrow!

And lest we think that piracy has ended:

"In fact, it continues to this day, mostly in areas where crushing poverty coexists with unpoliced oceans. There are hundreds of pirate attacks on ships every year, especially around the Philippines, Indonesia, parts of South America, Nigeria, and Somalia. Now the targets are often oil and gas tankers or ships carrying drugs."

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