Special Interest Page

Children's literature




Literary villains have frequently been more interesting and more memorable than their victims; and pirates are certainly no exception. How many children would choose to play Jim Hawkins if the role of Long John Silver were available? This fascination with pirates is understandable. They are the epitome of freedom and adventure. A child can acquire a sword, a big hat, an eye patch, perhaps even a peg-leg and a parrot, and instantly become a colorful, somewhat frightening, and very powerful character for Halloween or in dramatic play. Children’s books about pirates have become more gender-fair in recent years, introducing young readers to bold female pirates; but often they are still pictured as heroic adventurers rather than as criminals, just as they are in amusement park rides and in motion pictures. It is not my intention to deprive children of this dramatic character and the power it endows, but perhaps we should also introduce them to the reality of piracy, both historically and in the present.


Although entertainment media have popularized and romanticized swashbuckling pirates, it is important to remember that piracy is a crime of terrorism. American and European pirates proudly flew the Jolly Roger with its image of a human skull and crossed bones to symbolize the death often inflicted upon the crews of merchant vessels or the residents of port towns on which  pirates preyed.



Pirates committing thefts and highjackings on the high seas, inhibiting trade, and endangering maritime communication are considered by sovereign states to be hostis humani generis (enemies of humanity). In today's world we most often think of piracy in terms of intellectual property. It is important to note, however, that more traditional forms of pirates still exist, and their acts of robbery and terror have actually increased in 2005 and 2006 according to statistics kept by the International Maritime Bureau. Since such sea robberies tend to occur near unstable nations, it is not surprising that there was an increase of incidences of piracy in the seas around Iraq in 2006. These contemporary pirates are most often indistinguishable from fishermen or recreational sailors and would be as unlikely as electronic pirates at their computers to become romanticized by the entertainment media. Unfortunately, they do share with their 18th century counterparts the use of violence for personal gain against innocent and unsuspecting victims.

Perhaps it is time to explore the culture and ethos of pirates with facts and with questions that raise the consciousness of young people.


        Is it our responsibility as educators to help children understand the reality of piracy to counteract the        

          glorification of pirates often seen in the popular media?

        Can we, or should we, attempt to introduce this reality without destroying children's joy in re-creating

           traditional fictional pirates in their dramatic play?

To what extent do we, or should we, see pirates as the terrorists of their time?

Is the criminality of pirates revealed in their fictional portrayals?

How were the Letters of Marque used to justify crimes and what might be the parallel today?

To what extent has the drive for finding sunken ships and treasure dominated our perception of pirates?





Adkins, Jane. What If You Met a Pirate?: An Historical Voyage of Seafaring Speculation. Brookfield, CT: Roaring Brook Press, 2004.


Bateman, Teresa. Fluffy, Scourge of the Sea. Illustrated by Michael Chesworth. Watertown, MA: Charlesbridge, 2005.


Colwell, Cressida. How to Be a Pirate: ( By Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III)  Translated from the Old Norse by Cressida Cowell. Boston, MA; Little Brown, 2005.


Fienberg, Anna. Horrendo's Curse. Illustrated by Kim Gabble. Crows Nest, New South Wales, Australia: Allen & Unwin, 2002.


Fox, Mem. Tough Boris. Illustrated by Kathryn Brown. San Diego, CA: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1994.


Funke, Cornelia. Pirate Girl. Illustrated by Kerstin Meyer.  Frome, Somerset, UK: The Chicken House, 2005.


Long, Melinda. How I Became a Pirate. Illustrated by David Shannon. San Diego, CA: Harcourt, 2003.


(Lubber, William Captain) Steer, Dugald, Editor. Piratelogy: The Pirate Hunter’s Companion. (Ologies) Cambridge, MA : Candlewick Press, 2006.


Mahy, Margaret. The Great Piratical Rumbustification  & The Librarian and the Robbers. Illustrated by Quentin Blake. London, UK: J.M. Dent, 1978.


Matthews, John. Pirates. New York: Atheneum, 2006.


Penn, Audrey. Mystery at Blackbeard's Cove.  Illustrated by Joshua Miller and Philip Howard. Terre Haute, IN: Tanglewood Press, 2004.

Somper, Justin. Vampirates: Demons of the Ocean. New York: Little Brown, 2006.


Wheeler, Lisa, Composer. Seadogs : An Epic Ocean Operetta. Staged by Mark Siegel.  New York: Atheneum Books, 2004.


Yolen, Jane. The Ballad of the Pirate Queens.  Illustrated by David Shannon. San Diego, CA: Harcourt Brace, 1995.





Rob Ossian’s Pirate’s Cove 


National Geographic Pirate website 


Expedition Whydah 


The Queen Anne's Revenge Shipwreck Project - Archaeological Investigations of Blackbeard's Flagship  


Blackbeard Lives 


Pirates: Brethren of the Sea 


The Jolly Roger 


Atlantic Pirates in the Golden Age by Marcus Rediker 


Pyracy: Then & Now 



SCILS, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey