________________ CM . . . . Volume XII Number 15 . . . . March 31, 2006


Pirate's Passage.

William Gilkerson.
Boston, MA: Trumpeter/Shambhala (Distributed in Canada by Random House of Canada), 2006.
364 pp., cloth, $25.95.
ISBN 1-59030-247-8.

Subject Heading:
Sea stories.
Historica fiction.

Grades 6-8 / Ages 11-13.

Review by Gregory Bryan.

*** /4


I watched him at his work, trying again to collect my thoughts regarding him, with no more success than any of the previous times I'd tried. Every time he started to make me believe something about himself, he would dispel it with a wink; on the instant I came to some judgment about him, he did something to shatter it. There was no question that he had blown me out of my personal doldrums, and the inn, too, and had become well regarded in Grey Rocks, and there was all of that. But I knew other sides of him. Aside from being a thief, at least a petty one, he was an actor beyond Meg's most fearsome suspicions—seldom a liar, but a master manipulator of the truth, and of people.


Captain Charles Johnson and his 35 foot sailboat, Merry Adventure, arrive in Grey Rocks Harbour amidst the turbulence of a Nova Scotia winter storm. Having docked safely, the captain then hunkers down to see out the winter in the Admiral Anson Inn. Johnson's arrival coincides with a period of turbulence for the residents of Grey Rocks, including 12-year-old, Jim. Jim narrates the story in the first person, recalling events as they occurred in the winter of 1952-53.

     At the time of Captain Johnson's arrival, young Jim is struggling with a school history assignment on pirates. Fortunately for Jim, the captain is an authority on pirate history. Over the next several months, Johnson proceeds to share with Jim many detailed stories about seafarers and pirates — about Francis Drake and Grace O'Malley; about Black Bart, and the castaway, Alexander Selkirk; about Edward “Blackbeard” Teach, Tom White, Captain Kidd, and others.

     Captain Johnson teaches Jim far more about pirates than could be learned in a library full of books. Indeed, Johnson speaks as if his own knowledge comes not from books but has been acquired from first-hand experience. Johnson's mysterious manner adds to his intrigue, and Jim finds himself irresistibly drawn to the new arrival. Johnson's appeal is even greater when the captain helps to save the Admiral Anson Inn from financial ruin and from the clutches of Jim's antagonists, the Moehner family.

     As well as being a writer, the author, William Gilkerson, is a sailor and historian, and his intimate knowledge of his subject is impressive. Pirate's Passage is an intricately crafted, well-written and enjoyable book. For those interested in pirates and a history of the high seas, I recommend this book most highly. Paradoxically, any hesitancy on my part is borne somewhat of the strengths of the book. The detailed writing and specific nautical language (with yawls, gaffs, mizzenmasts, halyards, and galleys) will undoubtedly present a challenge to many young readers. Furthermore, the book is promoted as being suitable for readers ten years and up. I believe the material will prove too difficult for most 10-year-olds. It seems to me that Gilkerson would have been better served to add a couple of years to the age of his 12-year-old protagonist. Given the manner in which Captain Johnson's pirate stories are inserted into the narrative, the book tends to meander about—seemingly blown this way and that—and takes some time to get where it is going. These things being the case, I think it will take a strong middle school reader, and one with an interest in the history of the sea, to have the skill and interest to persevere with this book through its slower periods. Those that do so will, however, be well rewarded with an enjoyable and educational read. For capable readers with an interest in pirates, this is a book for you.

Recommended with reservations.

Gregory Bryan teaches literacy education classes in the Department of Curriculum Teaching and Learning in the Faculty of Education, the University of Manitoba.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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