CM . . . . Volume XV Number 13. . . .February 20, 2009.
Captain Jake. (Orca Echoes).
Shannon Stewart. Illustrated by Ben Hodson.
Victoria, BC: Orca, 2008.
59 pp., pbk., $6.95.
Kidd, William, d. 1701-Juvenile fiction.
Grades 1-3 / Ages 6-8.
Review by Jonine Bergen.
Jake loved to dream about treasure.
He had many interesting collections. In his desk was a jar full of old pencil stubs too short to fit into the pencil sharpener. There were also seventeen rolled balls of rubber cement glue, twenty-four pulled pop can tabs and thirty-five gum wrappers.
Today he was sitting behind Terri, a girl with long blond hair. Very carefully, Jake took a lock of her hair in his hands. Terri didn’t notice. In the light, Jake could see gold and silver shining in the strands. Treasure! Thought Jake. He reached for his scissors and leaned forward.
In Captain Jake, Shannon Stewart shows little boys aren’t made of snakes, snails and puppy dog tails but, rather, mischief, dirt, treasure, and pirates.
Jake loves to hunt for treasure. He keeps his eyes open and his head down looking for unique items to add to his collections. Jake knows he is well on his way to becoming a pirate because he is able to find the unique items that exist in the everyday world. But sometimes, even pirates have problems. Jake’s dilemma is Boris Baxter, the meanest kid in school, and his pet rat, The Bubonic Plague. Boris and The Plague love to torment Jake by stealing his treasure.
Luckily, Jake meets the famous pirate, Captain Kidd, who decides to make Jake his cabin boy and teach him the most important rules of the sea – including how to stand up to a bully.
Shannon Stewart’s effective use of stock characters quickly and comfortably invites the reader into her world. Captain Jake is saved from being too predictable, however, by Stewart’s use of humour and exaggerated description. For example, Captain Kidd, though a fierce pirate, likes baths and is afraid of Jake’s teenage sister, Gladys, who is dubbed the Gruesome Gladys.
The black and white cartoon illustrations by Ben Hodson significantly enhance the enjoyment of the tale. Each chapter contains at least one full page cartoon focusing on the main action of the chapter. Hodson tickles the funny bone while providing excellent clues to the surrounding text.
Author Shannon Stewart definitely knows what appeals to young boys. She has included many of the favourite plot devices of successful boy books. Time travel, adventure, treasure, invisibility, a nasty villain and the brave young hero all are winners in children’s literature. However, the trouble with this narrative is that all these devices are thrown into the same short story. For a 58 page early chapter book, there is too much action with very little transition and plot development. Stewart could easily have developed several stories out of all the snippets she has put into this one.
Ultimately, Captain Jake does not live up to its potential. There is too much attention on extraneous action and not enough focus on a central plot. Stewart needs to decide what story she wants to tell in this early chapter book, or, take more time and develop the plot and subplots further.
My guest reviewer, an eight-year-old boy, said he liked Captain Jake because it was funny. He also said he liked how Jake learned to stand up to Boris. He gave Shannon Stewart’s tale five stars. Without his enthusiasm for Jake’s pirate tale, I would have given Captain Jake two stars. I lost sight of the treasure half way through the book.
Jonine Bergen is a library technician at Westwood Junior High School in Winnipeg, MB.
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