Sara Gomez Woolley
NatGeo Kids, 2022
64pp., hbk., RRP $A24.99
In 1995, September 19 each year was proclaimed International Talk Like a Pirate Day. Created as a bit of fun by two friends in the US, in Australia, at least, it has become a major fundraiser for Childhood Cancer Support with schools getting involved in a range of ways to support students and friends. According to the Cancer Council, it is estimated that, on average, about 750 children aged 0-14 are diagnosed with cancer each year in Australia with leukaemia accounting for about 33% of cases, and brain cancers, 25% so it is likely that a school will be supporting a student through this – if not yours, then nearby.
Thus, what might have been a frivolous suggestion more than 25 years ago, can now have a significant impact on those we know and this new book from NatGeo Kids can provide an opportunity to investigate the lives of some of the women who were just as fearsome as the more well-known males such as Blackbeard, Captain Kidd, Captain Hook or even Jack Sparrow. As is often the case with history, the past is viewed through a male lens because men were viewed as the gender capable of writing and reading, they became the scholars, and thus wrote the history books which were mostly written to please kings , generals or male politicians and so only portrayed the male perspective.
Thus, even though there have been female pirates since the dawn of piracy, including Ching Shih (aka Zheng Yi Sao) who tormented the South China Sea with her fleet of 70,000 raiders in the early 19th century, our children have grown up with male-dominated images and stereotypes.
Easy to read with lots of detailed illustrations, the author has trolled the few resources that do still exist and this collection of six stories of powerful female pirates who forged their own path is but a small part of the stories of other women whose stories have been lost or forgotten. Spanning the Caribbean, the Irish and North Seas, the Mediterranean and even the Pacific, this is a fascinating look into the lives of these women that had me more intrigued that I imagined and immediately I could see its place in a serious study of these seafarers who not only captivate young readers in folklore and fiction but who also were real and shaped history so that International Talk Like a Pirate Day could have a legitimate place in the curriculum and thus, its associated fund-raising boosted.
Older students might investigate the qualities of leaders and leadership and whether rule by fear is the most successful way, while perhaps the next pirate a younger child draws might even be female!