Thursday, July 3, 2008

Pirates are good, okay?

The very first book I can remember loving was called The Pleasant Pirate. I got it--alongside my other favorite book The Story of Ferdinand (an antiwar picture book, so you can see how conflicted I was even then)--from the Newport News Public Library. My mother, baby brother, and I were living down in Virginia with our grandparents Dan and Fanny Berlin while Daddy (Will Yolen) was away in the War. Actually he was a second lieutenant and head of the Secret Radio ABSIE, stationed in London.

very first book I ever made was in 7th grade. It was a school project for one of my classes at Hunter Junior High in New York City. It was about pirates and I leaned rather heavily on my sources, made illustrations, cardboard-covered-with-blue-cloth jackets, and sewed it together. I think it was simply called Pirates.

The very firs
t actual book I sold to a publisher was called Pirates in Petticoats, about women pirates. I was living in New York at the time, and had a bunch of badly written picture books making the rounds plus one interesting nonfiction proposal. I never actually sold any of those picture books but Rose Dobbs, an editor at David McKay, made an offer for Pirates in Petticoats on my 22nd birthday and so my book writing career was launched. It took a year for the research (in the NY Public Library's rare book room, and at Foul Anchor Archives in Rye, New York, this being long before the Internet) and writing. The book got some nice reviews and went out of print just as the woman's movement was really getting going. Bad timing.

Years later, I took two of those women pirates--Ann Bonney and Mary Reade--and wrote a ballad about them called The Ballad of the Pirate Queens which David Shannon illustrated and it is still in print.

Which brings me to now and to Charlesbridge.

I had often bemoaned the fact that Pirates in Petticoats went OP. But I knew it had been
written by a 22 year old, one still learning how to write. I wanted to redo it. Once I thought of writing it for adults and calling it Buccaneer Broads. After all, most of the pirates didn't actually wear petticoats And I'd made up conversations between the pirates and their friends and enemies with abandon. (One did that back in the 60s in children's nonfiction.) I discussed this with the irrepressible Judy O'Malley, editor extraordinare who was--at that time--newly come to Charlesbridge. Among other things, I'd discovered Grania (Grace) O'Malley whom I hadn't put in the earlier book. I'd discovered that several of the pirates in my first book were probably simply storybook lasses, not real at all. In the ensuing years (Pirates in Petticoats had come out in 1963) much more had been written about women pirates.

Judy and Charlesbridge were intrigued. My granddaughter and her best friend went trick-or-treating as Anne Bonney and Mary Read the year Charlesbridge gave me a contract for the book (the next year they were "Thelma and Louise.") And I began to work hard on the research and writing.

Sea Queens will be out this year, in time for September 19, "Talk Like A Pirate Day." I plan to take to the airwaves, saying things like "Get off the poop deck!" and "Arrrrrrr" to anyone who will listen. I may even buy myself a parrot. Or learn to sail.

Posted by author Jane Yolen.

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