Now that I have kids (ages 2 and 4), I read a lot of children’s books. And it’s always such a pleasure to find ones that work on more than one level: great stories, great illustrations, great language. If I can get at least two of these things in a book, I feel lucky. If I can get all three, it’s a jackpot.
Pirate Girl by Cornelia Funke (illustrated by Kerstin Meyer, translated by Chantal Wright) is one of these books. The story rocks: It’s about a girl, Molly, on her way to visit her grandma in a little sailboat, who is captured by a band of pirates. She lives with the pirates while they wait to find her parents and demand a ransom—and they make her do all the work while they relax. At night, she slips bottles with letters for help into the sea. Finally, her mom finds one of the bottles and comes to rescue her—and it turns out her mom is the scariest pirate of them all!
It’s a great, simple plot. And it’s fun to anticipate the moment when Molly is rescued and shows those pirates who is boss. But it’s also fun to read just for the pleasure of the language. The words of the story are rich and textured. They’re fun to say. They feel good in your mouth. Here’s the opening paragraph:
“Captain Firebeard was the terror of the high seas. His ship, the Horrible Haddock, sailed faster than the wind over the waves. Whenever the Horrible Haddock appeared on the horizon, the knees of honest seafaring folk would shake like jelly.”
There are so many good consonants and great words. Like the names of the pirates: Morgan O’Meany, Bill the Bald, Willy Wooden Hand, and Crooked Carl. On page 3 alone, there are more great words than you can shake a stick at: fearsome, motley, figurehead, hammocks, and casks of rum.
If you’re going to read a book over and over, it’s nice if that book has some fun words to say. And it’s also nice if that book has amazing illustrations. And this one does. The color palette is a little muted, the pirates all have very distinctive faces, and the images are rich and complicated enough to hold little ones’ interest for a while. Plus, I just love to see Molly’s buxom mom hit the scene with her shock of red hair and her ferocious crew of lady pirates.
I always clap and shout, “Hooray! Pirate Girl!” when my kids pick this book to read.