The Pirates Next Door by Jonny Duddle has been on my to-review pile for a long time. I really rather like the book, but I’ve found it hard to write a review because I can’t help but read it as a satirical story, commenting on society’s attitudes towards “outsiders” (immigrants, travellers, people who are somehow “other”). It’s been difficult for me to find the words to write a book review rather than a political rant.
M (7) would say it’s a extremely funny story about a dream scenario: just how exciting would it be if a real pirate family pitched up to live in our street whilst they repaired their ship? Answer: VERY! And if they left treasure chests behind? …Even better!
My adult head says it’s a rather acutely observed tale about how most people in a neighbourhood react with horror when an strange family arrive in town; there are complaints the pirates don’t wash, they are untidy, they terrorize the people they come into contact with. All in all, most of the pirates’ (grown up) neighbours agree “they won’t fit in round here”.
After a long list of complaints from neighbours, the pirates eventually move on their way, leaving behind wealth and a display of generosity that puts the local residents to shame.
Did Duddle write this book as a commentary on society’s attitudes to “outsiders”? I don’t know. What I do know is that it speaks strongly to me because of my own experience of foreigner nimby-ism: I once had a family of Kurdish refugees as neighbours who enriched my life with generous gifts of lamb dishes perfumed with dill, and stories of humanity against a backdrop of the atrocities committed against their families by Saddam Hussain. They were lovely people. And yet I witnessed them being harassed, abused and threatened by local residents, residents who didn’t even know where they came from (always calling my neighbours Turks – completely incorrectly) but who for some reason felt threatened by this kind, creative family.
But put aside this personal connection, and you’re still left with a great book (indeed, earlier this year it won the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize). Told in rhyme (I want to sing the text, playing my accordion, as if it were a sea shanty that a pirate might very well sing themselves), this is a story for kids of dreams come true. What fun to have naughty neighbours doing everything that you’ve always wanted to do yourself (not having to wash, making people walk the plan, dressing up like a pirate), and how brilliant that in the end they leave you treasure and invite them to sail away with them next holidays.
The illustrations are glossy and remind me of Pixar animations – no doubt these will appeal hugely to kids used to a diet of tv/film/game animation. There are lots of fun details in the pictures (including a blossoming friendship between a landlubber cat and a pirate dog), and every page has a hidden skull to find. The first illustration in The Pirates Next Door features a town sign, showing the location of the story, and the town it is twinned with:
A fun joke, made even funnier by the recent news that a real town called Dull (in Scotland) has indeed twinned itself with another real town, called Boring (in the US).
Inspired by The Pirates Next Door the girls were naturally very keen indeed to hunt for their own treasure. First they prepared their treasure chests – these are hinged wooden chests available from Baker Ross, which the girls painted with acrylic paint.
I then filled the chests up with treasure (cheap costume jewellery from junk shops) and hid them around our neighbourhood (with a little note, requesting that they be left in place for 2 young girls on a treasure hunt).
I then printed off a map of our local area from Open Street Map (with great coverage of most urban areas in the world) and marked the locations of the treasure using a big X (of course!).
Whilst reading the map was beyond J, M got the hang of it very quickly and was soon leading the way to buried treasure…
This was a great way to get outside, exploring the local neighbourhood and developing a skill I think is so important – real map reading.
And the fact that the end result was handfuls of nice sparkly things wasn’t horrible either!
Whilst the girls were painting their treasure chests we listened to:
Other activities which would be fun to do following a read of The Pirates Next Door include:
(this is really worth clicking through for if you like playing with food!
What pirate books do you and your kids like?
Disclosure: The Pirates Next Door was provided to me by the publisher. This review nevertheless reflects my own and honest opinion.