I spend a lot of time reading to my daughter. It’s a good way to pass the time too, just so long as its not the fifth time I’ve read the particular book in the past eight hours.
The thing about reviews for children’s books, however, is that people tend to focus on the child. And for good reason, of course. But what typically isn’t discussed is the reader’s point of view. It’s boring reading the same book over and over to a child. She never tires of it, but I can readily admit that I do.
Thanks to this endless repetition, I have learned to rank her books on three criteria—all of which boost my enthusiasm and willingness to read them:
- Is it fun to read?
- Is it full of interesting artwork?
- Is it a bit beyond my child’s so-called reading level?
If a book scores highly in all three of those, I’m a much happier camper. So let’s take a look at Calef Brown’s Pirateria.
Is it fun to read?
I picked up Pirateria at the local library a few weeks back based on the subject matter. My daughter likes pirates. This is probably because I do. I own a ship’s wheel, a harpoon, and dozens of pirate books. And that’s just scratching the surface. It’s rubbed off on her too. She does a very good “ARRRR!” and it’s rare to find a pair of her socks without pink and sparkly Jolly Rogers emblazoned on all sides. So it seemed like a choice that she would enjoy and I wouldn’t tire of after the first 275 times.
I’m happy to report that this instinct has panned out. The subject matter has greatly increased Pirateria’s fun factor, for both myself and Audrey. Brown’s style of writing helps a great deal too. You see, Pirateria isn’t a story, per se. It’s essentially about a “wonderful, plunderful pirate emporium”. Page by page, it goes over the services and products this imaginary pirate store has to offer. There’s no real narrative here. It’s more of a fictional sales piece for an admittedly fun-looking enterprise.
“Are your sea legs limber? Your timbers shivered? No lily-livered landlubbers allowed here! Pirateria caters to barnacle scrapers and hull scrubbers, treasure seekers and sea robbers, from far-off ports of call. Gnarly pirates, wall to wall!”
All the pages follow this general theme, just with different topics of interest, like the importance of eye patches, the need to have message bottles in case of shipwreck, and the many night classes—“on smuggling molasses and making your own spyglasses”—Pirateria has in store.
Overall it’s a fun, clever piece. Its sales pitchy nature also lends itself to reading it in a punchy, over the top tone, which goes over well with 2-year-olds I must say. I can’t help but read it as boisterously as possible, and that increases its enjoyability a great deal.
Is it full of interesting artwork?
In short: definitely. Brown clearly has a distinctive art style. While very two-dimensional, and admittedly crude stylistically, the artwork is nevertheless charming, whimsical, humorous, and kinetic. Each page has a different color scheme and layout, and he jams them with lots of colorful characters that appear to live, breathe, and jump right out at you. It engages the reader and perfectly complements the words on the page.
Plus he painted a parrot in a sombrero. Who doesn’t love that?
Is it a bit beyond my child’s so-called reading level?
As you may have noticed in the earlier sample, the words used in the book can be a bit much, especially for such a young child. To hammer this point home, here is a sampling of the vocabulary used in Pirateria:
- Rope in Hanks
If I wasn’t already fairly well-versed in pirate jargon I wouldn’t know half these words. And the other half? Definitely requiring of some additional research. These are not terms a 2-year-old will understand, obviously. But is that a problem? Is that something I should guard against or welcome with open arms?
The more sophisticated the book is, the more enjoyable it is for me. Clearly. But it’s even more important that it’s age appropriate. Despite there being no stated age requirement in the book, Pirateria clearly is meant for readers well beyond the age of two. It’s not violent in any way, so it’s safe in that regard, but the words themselves are definitely a step beyond that of Dr. Seuss or Curious George. It doesn’t seem to matter with Audrey, however. She loves the book. LOVES it. She asks—no, demands—that I read it at least three times a day. Sometimes more. I highly doubt she understands much of the book at all, but she can’t wait for me to share it with her any chance she gets.
Maybe my daughter’s passion for this and other similar books has skewed my perspective in the matter, but I am of the opinion that there is nothing wrong with challenging a child. So what if the book is beyond her? As long as it’s not inappropriate and I’m not forcing it on her, what’s the problem? It is my sincere hope that books, such as this one, will encourage her to keep reading. To keep being inquisitive. To keep learning! Pirateria nurtures her curiosity and I applaud that.
It’s going to be a sad day when we have to return Pirateria to the library, but I have a feeling it won’t be gone for long. It is truly a magnificent children’s book that hits all the right marks. It may not have much of a story or a message, but if you’re looking for a whimsical, fun, well-illustrated, and challenging book for your child—without driving you insane to boot—you can’t do much better than Pirateria.