CM . . .
. Volume XVI Number 23. . . .February 19, 2010
The Dread Crew: Pirates of the Backwoods.
Kate Inglis. Illustrated by Sydney Smith.
Halifax, NS: Nimbus, 2009.
189 pp., hardcover, $16.95.
Grades 4-9 / Ages 9-14.
Review by Erin Walker.
"Tell you what." Joe had made up his mind. "I've got an idea."
The captain, lost in his memories, looked curiously at Joe.
"How about I teach you, and you teach me?"
Hector Gristle blinked, stupefied for the second time in his life.
"I could help you and your crew learn how to...not make so much of a ruckus. How to get people to like you, maybe, or at least not mind you. Then you'd find it easier work to get what you want, to get the places you need to go."
"Hmph," grunted the captain, not altogether in dismissal. "Honey lessons. And in return?"
"You let me tag along," Joe blurted, too fast to think.
The old man took a split second to consider his own recklessness. This gang was a rowdy terror, that much was plain.
The Dread Crew, by Kate Inglis, is a hilarious and highly imaginative tale that plays with the tradition of Atlantic Canada pirate stories. A band of revolting pirates, known as the Dread Crew, are on the rampage through Barss Corner, NS, in their giant wood ship, terrorizing the locals and pillaging for junk that can be refurbished and reused. Close on their trail is Eric Stewart, boy pirate tracker, who's been collecting evidence and documenting their vandalism for months. One day, the pirates' path of destruction disappears and the clues suddenly dry up. Little does Eric know, the Dreads are closer than ever, hiding at the next farm over, owned by friendly Grampa Joe.
Grampa Joe, a junk collector himself, befriends the Dreads by promising to teach them how to obtain more junk by being good-natured and pleasant rather than reckless and fearsome. "You'll catch more flies with honey than vinegar," says Joe. Thanks to Joe's "honey lessons," the Dreads endear themselves to the citizens of Barss Corner, but trouble arises when the heavy-handed Pirate Union comes after the crew for breaking their rules of hooliganism. There's a strong message at work here, but the book's laugh-out-loud humour and liberal sarcasm successfully distract from the moralistic undertone.
Inglis's spirited prose is a treat to read. Her descriptions of the pirates' repulsive appearance and foul habits elicit the perfect blend of disgust and glee. Each of the Dreads is unique in his or her nastiness, from the malodorous Funky Phezekiah "said not to have bathed in many years," to the chronically flatulent Wedgie Reggie, to Fetchin' Gretchen, "the ugliest pirate of all with chronic facial pustules."
Sydney Smith's traditional-style black-and-white illustrations suitably complement the text. Readers will especially appreciate the illustrated end papers featuring the Dread Crew roster.
While The Dread Crew is Inglis's debut novel, she has been writing professionally for more than a decade. She is also the author of sweetsalty.com, a popular blog with a wide readership.
Although this clever pirate tale is ideal for readers in the 9-13 age range, it will have a broad appeal. For younger children, the book would make a wonderful read-aloud.
Erin Walker is rumoured to be a distant relative of the famous "Peter the Pirate" Easton. She is currently completing her Masters of Library and Information Science at the University of Western Ontario. Erin blogs about young adult books at http://theothererin.wordpress.com.
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