CM . . .
. Volume XII Number 1 . . . .September 2, 2005
If the cover art and title of Matthew and the Midnight Pirates, a level three book in the "First Flight Readers" series, seem familiar, that's because this chapter book is a revised version of the picturebook with the same name that was originally published in 1998. The story, now broken into seven chapters which range in length from four to six pages, has been modified in its vocabulary and sentence structure so that it can be read independently by the new reader.
The storyline remains essentially the same as events that Matthew encounters in his daily life—an overdue library book about pirates, dressing up and playing pirate, plus a radio report that the public library is facing a crucial book budget vote—appear in a distorted, mixed-together fashion in Matthew's dreams that night, though the dreams are presented as reality. Consequently, at midnight, Matthew boards a busload of pirates which is later captured by a busload of midnight librarians who resemble the midnight turkeys from Morgan's 1985 Matthew and the Midnight Turkeys. The librarians are seeking the fines on the pirates' overdue comic books, and the pirates, to avoid having to walk the plank and fall into "a big tank of hot, soapy water," propose that they attend that night's library budget meeting where they will all "vote for more money to buy books." In order to sneak past the security at city hall, the pirates hijack a busload of midnight lawyers, appropriate the lawyers' vestments and smuggle the turkeys into the meeting via the lawyers' briefcases. Before the vote, Matthew speaks to why books are important, and "When the vote was finally called, the turkeys all voted, some of them twice, and the library budget was saved." Returning home, Matthew goes back to bed, and the next day's paper reports that "Council keeps the library budget."
All of Martchenko's original full-page illustrations reappear in the First Flight Reader version, though occasionally flipped. Unfortunately, the detailed double page spread of the pirate bus has been significantly cropped. Since the text that had accompanied the closing illustration has been spread over two pages, Martchenko has created a new full-page illustration. As well, he has added additional small illustrations to introduce the chapters and to break up text blocks.
As previously noted, the text has been modified to accommodate the decoding skills of the new reader. Not surprisingly, these changes have resulted in some losses in the richness of Morgan's original word choices. Dropping some of the detail of the original text has also created a dissonance between the revised text and one original illustration. When the midnight turkeys ambush the pirates in the modified text, they are "armed to the beak with water balloons," but the accompanying illustration shows not only the balloons, but also water pistols, a hose and water sprinkler, all items mentioned in Morgan's original text.
Matthew and the Midnight Pirates is an excellent choice for newly fledged readers to solo upon. The imaginative story is lots of fun as are the illustrations. Perhaps emboldened by their success with this title, young readers might take on the challenge of some of Matthew's other midnight adventures in their picturebook forms.
Dave Jenkinson teaches courses in children's and YA literature in the Faculty of Education, the University of Manitoba.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.