Book Reviews: How to Be a Pirate

The second book in Cressida Cowell’s How To Train Your Dragon series, How to Be a Pirate, picks up a month after the previous installment, with Gobber the Belch training the young vikings in Sword-Fighting-At-Sea. Hiccup expresses optimism at being a competent sword fighter, reasoning that his family always has had a gift at swordsmanship, and that he had to be heroic in something, so it might as well be sword fighting. Things aren’t looking well for Hiccup, who looses his sword to the ocean, when the ship the students are on is hit by a storm.

Hiccup, Fishlegs and Toothless fall over board, but are able to swim back to shore by holding onto a box. Once they get out of the water they realize that what they’d been floating on wasn’t a box at all.

It was a coffin.

A coffin with the inscription:

BEWARE!
DO NOT OPEN THIS COFFIN,
CURSED BE HE WHO DISTURBS THE REMAINS OF GRIMBEARD THE GHASTLY, THE GREATEST PIRATE WHO EVER STRUCK TERROR INTO THE INNER ISLES.

Naturally, the Hooligans open the coffin, starting the entire tribe on a suicidal treasure hunt that leads to Hiccup and Fishlegs being trapped under a sinking boat at the bottom of the ocean, along with a villainous cannibal.

I’ll confess, I haven’t read that many American childrens’ books (odd, normally that wouldn’t be something I’d have to confess). But unless they feature a smooth talking cannibal, then I’m giving the point to British childrens’ literature. I won’t go into any details, but if anyone is worried about their children reading this book from my review so far, let me just say that my seven year old cousin has been reading these books for a while.

On that note, the difficulty of the language is quite low, making for a good read for younger readers. I can’t say what age is the youngest I’d recommend, but I’d say that these make good reads for any intermediate student of reading. They also make entertaining fast reads for older readers. Don’t expect A Tale of Two Cities, but don’t go in expecting to be bored, it’s over too fast for that. So, for any parents reading this that want to check out the book before giving it to their kids, it won’t be a chore to read this.

As far as the story goes, I won’t go into any details. Suffice it to say, that the plot is as simplistic as the first book, which is in no way any kind of detriment. In this case the entire plot focuses around the Hooligans’ hunt for the treasure of Grimbeard the Ghastly, Hiccup’s ancestor. However, the plot is greatly improved upon compared to How to Train Your Dragon, in that towards the end there are some very satisfying reveals about Hiccup and his best friend Fishlegs. I myself was actually surprised at them, in more ways than one, as up to that point I had been enjoying myself, but wasn’t expecting Cowell to surprise me at all.

Thematically the book focuses on, of course, growing up and all the issues associated with it, as well as developing a sense of identity, purpose, and self worth. At the end of the book Hiccup isn’t a hero by a long shot, but he’s a step closer, and understands exactly who he is. A cliche theme, perhaps, but for the intended readers it isn’t a cliche. Just like readers who didn’t grow up with The Lord of the Rings (or the original Star Wars trilogy for that matter) Eragon was an original book for them, the themes in How to Be a Pirate, while familiar to adults, are completely new for young readers, and will easily allow them to identify with the character of Hiccup.

Before I finish my review I’d like to talk about Hiccup’s father, Stoic the Vast. Those of you that saw the movie remember him as a harsh, insecure parent, who was more suited for leading Vikings into battle than raising a son on his own. (Was Hiccup’s mother dead in the movie? Sorry, stupid question, it’s a kids’ movie, of course she’s dead). While in the books Stoick is just as great a leader, and fairly incompetent as a parent, he isn’t as disappointed in his son as he is in the movie. In fact, it is quite clear that Stoick cares about his son, and while he has expectations of him as a Viking, isn’t as severe about it as his movie incarnation.

Adults in childrens’ entertainment are generally portrayed as incompetent, or absent. This is a necessary evil to allow the child protagonists to be the problem solvers. Children don’t want to read about adults solving all the problems. They want to read about kids like them being the heroes, saving the dumb adults in the process. Let’s not beat around the bush, kids always have, and always will, believe that adults don’t understand them. Sometimes this is true, sometimes it is not. Fiction geared at young readers takes advantage of that natural mindset, in order to make itself more appealing. Though sometimes they have a habit of going too far. With the parents either being oblivious, or raging morons.

Stoick however, while being just inept enough in the area that Hiccup excels in, intelligence, is not the bumbling fool that only exists to explain why the main character hasn’t been taken by child services.

Viking Child Services

Stoick is very much a character in his own right, who clearly loves his son, and risks his own life to save his son’s. I’ll be frank, there is a scene in the book that reveals Stoick as a complete Bad. A**. Read it, the book is worth just getting to see that scene. Parents should at least be refreshed by a fictional parent that has actual redeeming qualities, and is a well written character. Who also is a viking. Admit it, that alone makes it worth checking out before your kids read the book.

Overall How to Be a Pirate is an enjoyable read for anyone above the age of five that isn’t jaded about entertainment. Sometimes it doesn’t hurt to remember what it feels like to be a child. Trust me. I do it all the time.

If you liked my review, buy the book here: How to Be a Pirate

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