Storybook pirates and early childhood learning

Would you believe that with the hundreds of picture books I have in my possession I do not have one about pirates! That surprises me. There must be oodles of books about pirates on the market.

my granny is a pirate

When I was in London last year I did buy a delightful book for my grandchildren called My Granny is a Pirate by Val McDermid.  We had enormous fun reading it and laughing at the wonderful illustrations by Arthur Robins.

Although I own many titles by Mem Fox, I don’t own her “all time classic and long-lasting bestselling” pirate book, Tough Boris . In the information about the story on her website, Mem explains how the story came to be and raises issues of sexism, particularly regarding the over-representation of male characters, in picture books. This is a topic that is very familiar to me.

Tough boris

In addition to not owning books about pirates, I can remember using a pirate theme for teaching on only one occasion. This surprises me too as pirates seems to be a perennial theme for birthday and fancy dress parties. Children and adults find the idea of pirates fun. You have only to look at the success of the Pirates of the Caribbean series to know that.

Of course, in this post I am referring only to the pirates of picture books and movies such as these, that were no more real than other fanciful characters such as giants, fairies, elves and dragons.

The occasion for my using a pirate theme was over twenty years ago when I was running early childhood classes as part of my home-based business Create-A-Way, and the inspiration for it was of a practical rather than literary nature. I was required to wear a patch over an eye after having a pterygium removed. A pirate day seemed like a great way to avoid upsetting the children and to have a bit of fun as well. Perfect!

But why am I thinking about pirates you may wonder. Well, it’s in response to the post by Charli Mills at the Carrot Ranch and her challenge to writers to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a pirate story. As always Charli gets me thinking about different things with her prompts. She is talking about the piracy from her internet data service and drinking rum before 10 am, which is apparently something pirates do.

As usual I take the prompt to the early childhood education setting, and I’m excited by doing so. Ever since reading Charli’s prompt I have had ideas for teaching and learning experiences based on a pirate theme swirling around in my head. I may be late coming to the party, but I’m not coming underdressed.

One of the things I have always loved about teaching is the opportunity to be creative: to write and prepare fun educational resources to use with my children. What wonderful things could be done with a pirate theme. I can’t believe I have never done it. And while I am no longer in the classroom and the opportunity is not there for me to use them with my own class, I can make them for my website to share with other teachers. The fun of thinking, writing, and creating is still mine!

I’m pleased to announce that my website is underway. I have signed with a web designer and developer. It should be ready to go live by the end of January, ready for the start of the new school year in Australia. I can’t wait. Well, I can wait. I still have so much work to do in the meantime. I have resources to finish and new ones to write. There are many “in progress”. While I won’t be rushing into making pirate themed resources, I am putting them on my list. I have lots of ideas.

Actually now that I think about it, the mix of feelings I have now that the website is imminent may be similar to those experienced by someone walking the plank: there is no way back and the choice for the future is to either sink or swim. If I do manage to hold my head high and above water level, I hope I don’t get eaten by sharks!

On my website subscribers will be invited to suggest or request resources to match their requirements. I love thinking of resources to suit particular topics or to teach particular skills or processes. I would love a request for pirate materials so that I could get started on making them sooner rather than later.

Here are a few ideas I have to start with. I’m sure I would come up with many more given a little longer.

© Norah Colvin 2015

© Norah Colvin 2015

But now here is what got me thinking about pirates in the first place: my flash fiction response to Charli’s prompt. I’m definitely sticking with my early childhood theme and a bit of fun for this one.

If I was …

 If I was a pirate

I would sail the ocean blue,

In a boat made out of cardboard

With my parrot Libby-Lou.

 

I would wear a red bandana

And purple polished boots.

I would flash my pearls and silver sword

And plunder pirate loot. 

 

I would dig for buried treasure

In the spot marked with an X,

And all I’d find I’d stow inside

My handy wooden chest.

 

I would have no one to boss me

I could do just as I please,

Until my dad would call me

“Anna, come, it’s time for tea!”

Thank you

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts about any aspect of this post or flash fiction.

48 thoughts on “Storybook pirates and early childhood learning

  1. Sacha Black

    Not the only one late to the game!! I am to this post!! Sorry, as usual. This is very exciting though that your website is almost ready. I cannot wait for it to launch I am wishing you the best of luck with it, and we will all be here cheering you on 😀 ❤

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    1. Norah Post author

      No apologies necessary. We all do what we can. My reading time has been very short this wee too.
      Thanks for your enthusiasm about my website news. I appreciate your words of support.

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  2. Sherri

    Your flash poem is delightful Norah – seems we both had Johnny Depp on our mind for Charli’s prompt 😉 I remember once dressing my son up as a pirate out of old clothes of his and mine and he actually won (it was for Halloween). I couldn’t afford to buy a fancy outfit and thought his homemade one wouldn’t be much cop, but there you go! My daughter would much rather have been a pirate than a fairy…she can blame me for that 🙂 And I’m so excited for you about your web site Norah, that’s great news! I understand your nerves, but sure it will be fine and I wish you every success with it, very proud of you 🙂

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you for your kind words and encouragement re my website. I am excited about seeing it a reality at last.
      Fancy dress competitions can be a funny thing. Elaborate bought costumes may look effective, but the creativity that goes into homemade costumes gives them something special that is missing in the mass-produced ones. I am not surprised that your son won with his costume. I wonder what it was about pirates that appealed to your daughter. I think the way they are portrayed in picture books gives them an adventurous edge and sense of derring-do.

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  3. Irene Waters 19 Writer Memoirist

    How exciting Norah that your website is about to become reality. That is one of those first steps we were talking about and although you’re past the first step who knows where it will lead. Looks like a great new year for you coming up.
    The only pirate book I can really remember was Captain Hook in Peter Pan. There probably were others. Just thought of another Swallows and Amazons but that was going back to a time before I could read and my Dad read it to us. I don’t remember having picture books like those of Mem Fox.
    Your poem was delightful. Hope it is going in your resources.

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you, Irene. I’m looking forward to seeing my website a reality at last. I hope 2016 is a good year, for all of us.
      I thought about Captain Hook in Peter Pan, but I didn’t ever read the book. I did see a movie once but didn’t feel qualified to comment on it, it was so long ago.
      I have no recollection of being read picture books when I was young, but my parents definitely encouraged a love of reading. For as far back as I remember we were given books as gifts. I do have a few illustrated books I received when I was about 8 or 9, but not really picture books as we know them now.
      Thanks for you encouragement re my poem. I’ll probably work on it and add it to the website when I get to create pirate-themed resources.

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      1. Irene Waters 19 Writer Memoirist

        One of my favourite illustrated books as a child was Eloise in Moscow. There was a whole series but that was my favourite. I don’t know what happened to my copy as I would never have thrown it out but I have seen that they have reprinted them so I plan on buying it again.
        Yes 2016 will be a good year for all of us. 🙂

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        1. Norah Post author

          I’m not aware of the Eloise series. The illustrations remind me of the Madeline books. The borrowers must be rampant.There are so many books I go looking for but cannot find. I do not know what has become of them.
          I’m definitely looking forward to 2016. Best wishes to you. 🙂

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          1. Irene Waters 19 Writer Memoirist

            The Madeline books are ones I don’t know. I think a lot of our childhood books wouldn’t appeal to the children of today but I could be wrong. I still think of many with great fondness and would happily reread them now but yes, the problem is finding them.
            Hope you have a Happy Christmas Norah and that 2016 brings you all the books you want along with a wonderful year for what time is left of it (after you have read all those books)

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            1. Norah Post author

              You know I have often commented that I don’t remember picture books from my childhood. Maybe I just need to remember a little better. I was thinking about Enid Blyton after seeing new versions of The Magic Faraway Tree and The Enchanted Wood at a bookstore yesterday. I haven’t ever read those, but I must have read all of The Famous Five and Secret Seven series, or a good few of them anyway. Then I thought about Noddy. I certainly read some Noddy books. I think I quite enjoyed them in my innocent childhood days. I haven’t read them as an adult to look for the innuendos and other things that got them banned. I guess they were just a sign of the times and society has moved on. Sometimes that’s a good thing.
              I wish you all the best for Christmas and 2016 too! 🙂

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              1. Irene Waters 19 Writer Memoirist

                I read all the Secret Seven and Famous Five. I think perhaps The magic Faraway tree was for an earlier generation as Roger read it as a child but I didn’t. I certainly read Noddy and I guess it must have been illustrated and I can vaguely remember the style of picture if not the detail. I too was an innocent and didn’t get the other meaning. I thought it was that Big Ears was a homosexual. I didn’t know what that meant either until i was way into high school. I wonder whether Enid Blyton had that other meaning in mind or it was just wowsers interpreting and using their own minds which may not have been as pure as Enid’s was.
                I hope you have a very Happy Christmas and 2016 also.

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                1. Norah Post author

                  It’s funny that you think The Magic Faraway Tree was for an earlier generation, well, not that you think that really, but that most of those I know who read it are younger generations. 🙂 Oh what babes in the woods we were. And I’m not sorry.
                  Happy Christmas to you and Roger also!

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                  1. Irene Waters 19 Writer Memoirist

                    Yes the Magic Faraway Tree was published in 1943 and the Enchanted Wood in 1939. The first of the Famous five was also written in the 40’s when she was most prolific. She also wrote the Mystery Series – which reminded me of the Mystery of the Pantomime Cat which I immediately recognised as a book I read and loved although I couldn’t now tell you the story. She was prolific with 3,373 books to her name writing more than 50 per year. She wrote on Education which may interest you. Supposedly her work became controversial in the 50s and 60s because it was seen as unchallenging and for the themes (Noddy books in particular). BBC wouldn’t broadcast them from 30s to 50s as they were seen as lacking literary merit. Blyton said her aim was to provide children with a strong moral framework. Personally I think she did that for me (in combination with my parents of course.)
                    Thanks for stimulating me to find out more about her. I now know also that her second husband was a Waters. Roger says that it is not a common name so I will now have to research and see if there could be a tenuous link in our lives, but that will wait until I have finished a whole heap of other projects waiting for that “when I finish” time.
                    Hope you and your family have a Happy Christmas.

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                    1. Norah Post author

                      Wow! She was prolific! It would be interesting to find a link with her through the name Waters. Does that mean there is a link with John Waters the actor too?
                      Thanks for letting me know Enid wrote about education. I must seek it out, but like you, when other projects are complete. She certainly got a lot of children into reading, even if the quality was not considered to be of literary merit.

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  4. katespencer17

    I loved the poem “If I was…” And when I started reading it, my mind instantly aligned your words to the melody of “If I were … a rich man” from Fiddler on the Roof. I don’t know why, but your words just carried me away. The ending was priceless! Congratulations on your upcoming new website. That is exciting news! I can see that you would have much to offer on it. Good luck with it.

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you for your encouraging words, Kate. I didn’t think about the rich man. I don’t think my words fit the tune, but I understand how the onset would have sent your mind in that direction. I appreciate your appreciation of the poem and wishes for my website.

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  5. Sarah Brentyn

    I’m no help on the pirate theme. I’ve been saying for years that I have no idea what on earth we are thinking dressing little kids up like pirates. It’s like seeing prostitutes and mass murderers toddling around on Halloween. Is this supposed to be cute? I do not understand our culture. At all. Why do we glorify things like this never mind dress children up like them? I’m rambling…
    I am so excited that your new website is underway! Looking forward to it. 🙂

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    1. Norah Post author

      It is interesting, isn’t it? I’d like to say that’s why I avoided the theme all these years but I can’t. It wasn’t a conscious decision.I don’t know that I’d equate them to mass murderers and prostitutes, but I guess many of the “real” ones were. I would have no intention of broaching that subject, and I’m sure there is little similarity between pirates of storybooks and pirates in reality. I do appreciate your being (shall I say?) devil’s advocate, though. It challenges my thinking in ways I hadn’t even considered.
      Thanks for your words about my website. We’ll see …

      Liked by 1 person

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      1. Sarah Brentyn

        It is bonkers. 😀 We see a lot of disturbing costumes around Halloween on little ones (and not so little ones). It’s the ones that glorify realistic people that bother me, I guess.

        Maybe not, Norah, but… Technically, pirates are mass murderers. Aren’t they? They lead pretty violent lives. They were thieves and murderers. Well, pretty them up and put them in a picture book but I still wouldn’t want to be on a boat with any of them! 😀

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  6. Pingback: Pirates on the Horizon « Carrot Ranch Communications

  7. Charli Mills

    I’m delighted by your creative spurt with pirates and that your flash pirate is a girl. Interesting about the gender imbalance of picture books. I read an interesting article today about an American teacher who incorporated more ethnic books and authors into her English class to reflect her student diversity. And a big congratulations on moving forward with your website! How exciting it is to bring ideas to fruition. I think you’ll discover the plunge of the plank will be a good one. 😀 Wishing you all the best with the implementation!

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you, Charli. I’m pleased you enjoyed the post.
      Incorporating aspects of children’s backgrounds is definitely important. It builds trust and bridges, and shows them that they are valued in the community.
      I hope I am ready for the plunge with my website! Oh well, it will always be a work in progress anyway. 🙂

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  8. macjam47

    Norah, this was a fantastic post. Best wishes with your website. It’s a lot of work setting up something like that and getting it off the ground. Children’s pirate books are always fun. I just had to order MY Granny Is a Pirate. Your flash is wonderful, and I loved that you do it in rhyme. The ending took me by surprise.

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thanks, Michelle, I’m pleased you enjoyed it. I’m certain you will love sharing “My Granny is a Pirate” with your little one.
      Thanks for your encouraging comment re my flash. I’m wondering what it is about the ending that took you by surprise. Didn’t I make the pirate play clear enough earlier on? I would have loved to add a few more verses – had to keep it to 99! 🙂

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          1. macjam47

            You did have a word limit, and it ended just fine. It’s a fun poem that children would enjoy, and if you added a couple more verses, I think it would be wonderful. The 99 word challenge really limited you.

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  9. Bec

    Great post Nor + very exciting news about the website!!!! It sounds like things are moving quickly, so I’m sure we’ll all be celebrating the unveiling of your website before we know it. Pirates is a funny one! Your Grandson told me recently he no longer likes pirates because he learned that pirates exist in the real world, and they hurt people, and he doesn’t like people who hurt other people. As you can imagine it made my heart swell! But certainly the folklore pirates in storybooks are fairly far removed from the real-world pirates who do terrible things. It’s great to see all the learning opportunities which come from this one theme, I like the idea that you can learn about sinking and floating from engaging children with the concept of pirates!

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you, Bec. I’m pleased you enjoyed the post and some thoughts about pirates. My grandson is a knowing little one isn’t he. Sounds like a great choice, but I wonder how he found out about ‘real’ pirates. Silly thing to wonder. He seems to know “everything”! If only everyone was so against hurting others, what a wonderful world it would be.

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  10. Sherrill S. Cannon

    Carole Roman has a popular series of Captain No Beard books…

    Sherrill S. Cannon, Award- Winning Author “Mice & Spiders & Webs…Oh My!”, “My Fingerpaint Masterpiece”, “Manner-Man”, “Gimme-Jimmy”, “The Magic Word”, “Peter and the Whimper-Whineys”, and “Santa’s Birthday Gift” http://www.sherrillcannon.com http://sbpra.com/sherrillscannon http://tinyurl.com/SherrillCannonFanPage http://sbpra.com/curejm http://sbpra.com/Imbullyfree

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

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    1. Norah Post author

      I’m getting a lovely lot of suggested pirate books in the comments here. Thank you for adding to them. Captain No Beard sounds like he may defy the stereotypes.

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  11. clodge2013

    I saw the article that Annecdotist mentions. Pah! Of course girls can be pirates and many of us are, even in our grandmotherhood. I used to play pirates a lot with my older grandson. We would shout ‘pieces of 8’ at each other in screechy voices, even in public places. And once, he surprised someone by taking ‘a swig of grog’ from his water bottle. We had maps with X marking spots, and a little treasure chest I picked up in the market that had once contained cigarettes. And we had books. OOOhaaah.
    Great topic. You will enjoy it as you get into it. I like your pirate verse.
    Best of luck for your new website.
    Caroline.

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    1. Norah Post author

      Oh Caroline, those pirate games you played with your grandson sound like great fun. I can just imagine the consternation of the onlookers when he took a swig of grog. What laughs you would have had together. I’m sure you have fun talking about those times now. If I have half as much fun with pirates as you did, I’ll be having a wonderful time.
      Thanks for your wishes about my website. I’m looking forward to seeing it become a reality.

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  12. susancarey

    In Holland we have a very popular Pirate author, Reggie Naus.
    I shared some of his books with two children when I was a volunteer for a reading aloud to kids in their home project. Mainly immigrant children who miss out some vocabulary because they only speak Turkish or Arabic at home. The children asked me who/what a pirate is, and are they real? Simple questions but not so simple to answer!

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thanks for sharing your experiences with pirates, Susan. I’m pleased your encounters were with storybook pirates only. It sounds like wonderful work you do. I might have to check up on the pirate books by Reggie Naus.
      Children do ask many questions which challenge us adults to consider the appropriate answer. It’s difficult to get it “right” all of the time. I’d be interested to know how you answered.

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        1. Norah Post author

          I think we’re all too young to know about the horrors of modern piracy! I’d rather it didn’t exist.
          Thanks for your comments re my poem. 🙂

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  13. Annecdotist

    I’m also surprised you haven’t done much with the pirate theme, Norah, but good to see you making amends! Very exciting about your website (surely not as scary as walking the plank?) and love your pirate rhyme.
    There was a little article in the Guardian at the weekend about the mother’s surprise at other people’s surprise when she dressed her twin girls as pirates – not because they were pirates, but because they were girls! So especially great that you’re ensuring that all genders can have fun with this one.

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thanks for your support, Anne. I’m pleased you think a pirate theme would be fun. It can be a bit of shock finding out that “real” pirates aren’t fun though.Having read Sarah Brentyn’s flash about a real female pirate makes me think we shouldn’t aim for gender equality in that direction.
      I am feeling a bit overwhelmed with the work that needs to be done for my website in the next month. I hope it won’t be too underwhelming when it goes live! Walking the internal plank and not slipping off is always a challenge. I do appreciate your support.

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