The Barefoot Book of Pirates by Richard Walker and illustrated by Olwyn Whelan is a retelling of seven pirate stories from Scandinavia, England, Germany, Ireland, Japan, Scotland and Morocco. The stories are well illustrated and entertaining while being refreshingly free from gore. The hardcover edition of the book is accompanied by a CD with Richard Hope narrating the seven stories, perfect for long trips!
Everyone associates Robin Hood with Sherwood Forest and Nottingham, but with references dating back to the 13th century and the earliest recorded ballads dating from the 13th and 14th century, it is difficult to separate fact from fiction and whether he was a real person or a conglomeration of many. The origins of “Robin Hood and the Pirates” date back to 1858 at least and possibly earlier. In the story, Robin decides to go on vacation and leave Sherwood Forest and Little John suggests a trip to Scarborough. Today, Scarborough is the largest holiday resort on the Yorkshire Coast. In keeping with the pirate theme, there is a treasure hunt in Scarborough which lets you explore the coast, castle and surrounding environs. After a few days in Scarborough, Robin decides he’s bored and wants to go out on a fishing boat. You too can go out on a fishing trip with Queensferry Cruises and Skylark Fishing Trips. While you probably won’t run into pirates on the coast of England on your trip, in this story Robin manages to save the fisherman from the pirates and in true Robin Hood fashion, he shares the plunder with the fishing crew and the good woman who had rented him a room.
Grace O’Malley (Granuaile) or “The Sea Queen of Connaught” is one of the few female pirates in history. In “Pirate Grace,” she arrives at Howth Castle in Ireland and asks for dinner according to custom. Lord Howth refuses as he is too busy eating his own dinner and doesn’t want to be disturbed. In retaliation, Grace kidnaps his heir and holds him hostage on Clare Island. Her demand for his son’s freedom? An apology and that the Lord always lay a spare place at the dining table in case anyone should need it.
Howth, now a suburb of Dublin, was originally a fishing village and is a nice day trip and escape from the hustle and bustle of Dublin. As the northernmost stop on the DART, it is easily accessible and offers great views, cliff walks, and enjoyable restaurants set in a working harbor. While the truth of the legend of Grace O’Malley is in doubt, to this day an extra place is set at Howth Castle. The castle is not open to the public, but it is visible as part of the walking tour of Howth. You can also take a ferry or boat tour out Ireland’s eye, formerly home to a monastery dating to 700 AD and now a bird sanctuary.
“The Ship of Bones” is probably the grimmest story of the collection, though it may have been an inspiration for Pirates of the Caribbean. A shipwrecked pair, drifting in the ocean catches sight of a strange ship that doesn’t answer their hail. The two men clamber on board only to discover the ship is crewed by skeletons in old fashioned sailor’s clothing. As they find out later, the boat has been cursed to not make landfall, so it is with a struggle that the men manage to change the ship’s course to head into Tangiers. By the end of the story, the two men find out what happened to the sailors and are able to put the skeletons to rest; this story would be an interesting introduction for a trip to Tangiers and you too can arrive by boat.
Tangiers is relatively easy to get to, it’s only an hour’s ferry ride from Tarifa, Spain. While there, you can visit Hercules’ Cave where Hercules is said to have rested and the Forbes Museum which contains 115,000 lead soldiers placed in various scenes depicting major battles throughout history.
The Barefoot Book of Pirates is published by Barefoot Books, an independent publishing company dedicated to publishing children’s books that allow children to explore other cultures, the planet, and their imagination. They’re a great source for children’s travel and exploration books.
As for how much my children enjoyed this book, well, we sat down on a grey, drizzly afternoon and read all seven stories (63 pages) in a single sitting!