The best books about pirates and children

John Leonard Pielmeier Author Of Hook's Tale: Being the Account of an Unjustly Villainized Pirate Written by Himself
By John Leonard Pielmeier

The Books I Picked & Why

Peter and Wendy

By James Matthew Barrie

Book cover of Peter and Wendy

Why this book?

How’s this for an opening? “All children, except one, grow up... You always know after you are two. Two is the beginning of the end.” I read this and I was hooked. (Pun intended.) Believe me, this is not just a children’s book. Barrie wrote this novel several years after his play Peter Pan was first produced (in fact the book is sometimes retitled Peter Pan) and when I discovered it, it took me places (philosophically and emotionally) that the play never dreamed of. It’s beautifully written, intensely funny, and as imaginative a piece of literature as you’ll ever find. Needless to say, it inspired me to write my book, and though Captain James Hook despises this book, the play, and the author, I hold no such prejudices. A pure joy!

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Treasure Island

By Robert Louis Stevenson

Book cover of Treasure Island

Why this book?

This is the Ur-book of all literature concerning pirates and children. It’s a book that started out as a map, and I for one love maps. Stevenson drew the map when making up an adventure story to tell his stepson Lloyd Osborne, and he eventually turned the map and the story into this literary masterpiece. We all know the tale – Jim Hawkins, a semi-orphaned Scottish lad, heads off to sea under the charge of a delightful father figure by the name of Long John Silver, a one-legged sea-cook who turns out to be not quite as delightful as the boy first imagined. Inspired by Robinson Crusoe it, in turn, inspired Barrie’s Peter Pan and in its own way (semi-spoiler-alert!) my book.

It’s dark (the Black Spot!), adventurous (a pirate’s buried treasure), funny (the marooned Ben Gunn), but best of all it’s more complex than you probably remember. The heart and soul of it is Long John Silver, one of the vilest - and most endearing - villains of all times. We love him, and then we hate him, and then we fear him, and always we wish him well. Stevenson is one of my favorite authors - I’ve visited his home in Western Samoa and climbed to his gravesite on a mountaintop there – and his books line my library shelves. He’s an inspiration to any writer because he knows how to tell a tale with richness and imagination and at a pace that can leave you breathless. But if you only read one of his masterworks, make it this one!

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A High Wind in Jamaica

By Richard Hughes

Book cover of A High Wind in Jamaica

Why this book?

I read this book on someone else’s recommendation – I remembered seeing the movie some years back and enjoying it – but what I expected to be a children’s adventure book, suitable for all ages, was anything but that. A hurricane destroys a plantation in Jamaica and the owners of the plantation decide to send their five children on a merchant ship back to England where, the parents assume, the children will be safe from harm. But the ship is captured by pirates, and there the adventure begins. Gradually the book becomes darker and bloodier, and this growing darkness is what makes this novel so great. It chilled me, to say the least, and I couldn’t put it down. It's a book about growing up, but the growing up that these children experience is definitely not to be envied. Modern Library named it one of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century. Oh yeah.  

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J. M. Barrie & the Lost Boys

By Andrew Birkin

Book cover of J. M. Barrie & the Lost Boys

Why this book?

Okay, this isn’t exactly about pirates, but it is about children who play at pirating and whose summer adventures with an author named Barrie inspired him to write his play Peter Pan. The children were George, Jack, Peter (and later Michael and Nico) Llewelyn-Davis, and they became the center of Barrie’s creative life. “I have no recollection of having written Peter Pan,” he later wrote. “He belongs rather to the five without whom he never would have existed and the play is streaky with them still. I suppose I made him by rubbing the five of them violently together, as savages with two sticks produce a flame. That is all he is, the spark I got from my boys.”

When I first read this book I had to put it down at the end of nearly every chapter – because I was sobbing and my tears made it impossible to make out the words on the next page. It inspired me to write a one-person play about Barrie, to visit Barrie's birthplace, and to surround myself with all things Barrie – which of course made the writing of my book so effortless. This is not only an exquiste biography of Barrie but also a narrative about the creation of a masterpiece. And the illustrations – mostly photographs richly scattered throughout – are fantastic.

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Doctor Dogbody's Leg (Heart of Oak Sea Classics Series)

By James N. Hall

Book cover of Doctor Dogbody's Leg (Heart of Oak Sea Classics Series)

Why this book?

This book is about neither pirates nor children, but it belongs on a list about pirates and children nonetheless. It’s certainly a book that children aged eight to eighty (or older) can enjoy, and because the protagonist is a one-legged seaman (Doctor Dogbody) who embodies the spirit of a one-legged pirate (Long John Silver) and a one-handed pirate (Captain James Hook) it deserves mention. Doctor Dogbody is a ship’s surgeon who likes his tipple, and when he’s drained his pint (or two or three) he is happy to tell the tale of how he lost his leg. And every time he tells the tale it’s a completely different saga, each saga more preposterous than the last. This is a laugh-out-loud book which I first discovered via the recommendation of a mountaineer, who would read each chapter aloud to his tent-mates at night while marooned in a snowstorm on the side of some vertiginous peak. Their laughter, presumably, kept them warm. There are ten chapters, and therefore ten explanations of leg-loss, and ten encounters with the likes of Benjamin Franklin, Catherine the Great, Horatio Nelson, and others. This book too inspired me – to laughter. Read and enjoy. 

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