When pirates lived next door…

posted in: Jonny Duddle | 15

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:

Dull-on-Sea twinned with Ennui-Sur-Mer

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:

  • Pirates by Milkshake
  • Pirate Ship – a traditional song, but here sung by Little Miss Ann
  • Pirate Girls Nine by They Might be Giants
  • Don’t Drink Sea Water by Captain Bogg and Salty


  • Other activities which would be fun to do following a read of The Pirates Next Door include:

  • Making an apple pie-rate ship like this one from Diamonds for Desserts
    (this is really worth clicking through for if you like playing with food!
  • Transforming your (kids’) room into a pirate ship… ok, like this one would be a huge undertaking, but it is amazing!
  • Creating DIY pirate maps and playing treasure hunt games! The Imagination Tree has lots of ideas just waiting to inspire you.


  • 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.

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    15 Responses

    1. We loved the review, your blog & the fact that you use the story as a theme to inspire the girls to get crafting & outdoors. Nice ツ

      We love the Captain Flinn and the Pirate Dinosaurs series and love to hunt for treasure and find booty!!

      • Thank you #fourlittletesters! Captain Flinn is wonderful I agree – lots of fun in those books.

    2. choxbox

      Very interesting take Zoe.

      We recently found a very cute book called Captain Pike Looks After the Baby by Marjorie Newman. Totally hilarious!

      Also
      1. You play the accordion? Wow!
      2. I love the girls’ jackets!
      3. Is it still that cold in the UK?!

      • Hi Choxbox, the Newman book is new to me, shall investigate. I play the accordion badly. A beginner really. Jackets are Dutch. The photos are about 2 weeks old (as I said it took me some time to write the post!) – it was still cold then. We’ve just had a hot spell for about 10 days, but now it’s cooler again – 18 by day 10 by night.

    3. How do you find the time – wow! Fun post and I’ve also heard from a very reliable 4 year old source that this is a good read. I think there may be treasure chests in my future.
      Mrs Brown recently posted..Big Plans by Bob Shea & Lane Smith

      • Thanks Mrs Brown :-) Time is found for things we love! And the girls ALWAYS have time for finding treasure ;-)

    4. Helen D

      I love the treasure hunt idea, not just in your garden but around the streets, brilliant. Have you ever tried geocaching?

      • Hi Helen, we don’t have a satnav thing for geo caching (nor any sort of phone which might do such an app), but I know about it and have heard it can get quite addictive! Have you tried it?

    5. hello Zoe !

      Armel loves pirates and we recently read this book: Pirateries written by frederic maupomé (http://www.amazon.fr/Pirateries-Fr%C3%A9d%C3%A9ric-Maupom%C3%A9/dp/221109063X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1338448650&sr=8-1).
      It’s a funny story of a little boy who is sent to a summer camp. He does not want to go. Day after day he takes more and more pleasure to be there. The camp is a bit special, it’s a pirate boat and he has to learn to be one with 2 other boys. The camp animator is “barbe noir”… The book is the boy diary. The illustrations are nice to.
      A good book with will have to take back to the library soon…

      • Hi Sophie, The Frédéric Maupomé book sounds fun – and looking at what he has illustrated, I’d love to see some more. Do you know any of his other books well? It seems like none have been translated :-(

    6. So glad you did gets around to writing this review as I think you truly do this lovely story justice! I suspect it is intentionally written on different levels, and if not, I love it any way!

      The treasure hunt for your girls truly rocks!
      Joanna recently posted..Illustrator Interview – Russ Cox

      • Thank you Joanna. I do hope Duddle wanted to tell the story I read in his pages – I think it’s a really important story for people to hear! And the specifics of Duddle’s version are lovely. Lots of fun. Hope you get to find some treasure of your own soon ;-)

    7. The first few sentences of your review reminded me of ‘Gulliver’s Travels’, which is actually a political satire dressed up as a children’s book. I’m not sure how relevant it yet is as far as politics go, but it sure is a wonderful children’s book.

      I was also reminded of Enid Blyton’s ‘Those Dreadful Children’, in which a new family moves in next door, and children from both families view each other with suspiscion, and how it all turns out well in the end.

      Those treasure chests are lovely!
      sandhya recently posted..Maurice Sendak and Leo Dillon : a tribute

    8. Hello Zoe,
      Sadly, I do not know any other book written and illustrated by Frederic Maupomé, and I think they are not translated into english…

    9. […] There’s also a review, social commentary and great ideas for pirate activities over at Playing By The Book (this is a must read, off you go now!) This entry was posted in Fiction Fridays, Picture Books […]

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