A pirate is a robber who roams the oceans of the world. He thieves and pillages and murders. Above his ship flies the skull-and-crossbones flag.
The pirate is a low-class dirty dog, a dirty down-and-outer with few teeth and a black patch on his eye. His is as often dead drunk as sober.
But wait--not all of that is true.
Some pirates did their thieving on rivers.
Some pirates, called privateers, robbed only enemies of their country. They sailed under a letter of marque--permission from their king or queen.
And not all pirates were men.
Not all pirates were men?
Yes, some of the greatest pirates ever known were women.
This introduction goes on to describe the "basics" of the pirate world, from flags to vocabulary, the pirate code, treasure and more.
What follows are 12 biographies of women pirates through history, beginning with Artemisia, Admiral-Queen from Persia (500-480 BC) and ending with Madame Ching from China (early nineteenth century). Accompanied by illustrations done in pen and ink on scratchboard, the biographies attempt to separate fact from fiction while providing as much solid information about the pirates as possible. The narratives are engaging and fun to read. They are accompanied by highlight boxes that provide a bit of context for the time and place, as well as interesting tidbits learned while researching the pirate. For example, the chapter on Anne Bonney and Mary Read, two pirates in the American colonies in the early eighteenth century, includes boxes on Piracy in the Carolinas, Anne's Poem (a poem said to have been written by Anne Bonney), How Anne's Story Was Told, How American Pirates Attacked, Women as Soldiers, Who Was Wood Rogers?, Who Knew They Were Women? and Captain Barnet's Attack. The biographies vary in length, with some extending only three pages, and others well beyond ten.
The book concludes with a chapter entitled Roundup, which includes a list of other women pirates about whom only a little is known. The chapter states:
Most pirates--men or women--have remained unknown to history unless captured and hanged or pardoned. Also the earlier accounts have been so compromised by folklore and legend, there are often few facts to back up the stories we do have.
This is a well researched book, as evidenced by the extensive bibliography of books and web sites. In fact, Jane Yolen includes a bibliographic note that says:
If it's any indication of how much I enjoyed this book, you should know that day it arrived I sat on the couch in my office (okay, reclined!) and read it from cover to cover. It is a fascinating, well-written text that is thoroughly engaging. This may actually be one of my favorite nonfiction reads of the year to date. I highly recommend it.
When I wrote an earlier book on women pirates, there was little easily obtained information about them. I didn't know then about Grania O'Malley, or Artemisia, or Teuta. In the over forty years since publication of that book, Pirates in Petticoats, scholars have done much work on the subject of women pirates. This book uses a lot of that new material.
Book: Sea Queens: Women Pirates Around the World
Author: Jane Yolen
Illustrator: Christine Joy Pratt
Publisher: Charlesbridge Publishing
Publication Date: July 2008
Pages: 104 pages
This post was written for Nonfiction Monday. Head on over to Anastasia Suen’s blog and check out all the great posts highlighting nonfiction this week.