Curator Betsy B.

Curator Betsy B.

Ages 3-7

Why I Built This Kit

Arrrr! Tis a bonny thing to be a pirate, don’t you think?  No baths to take.  You get to go looking for treasure.  There’s occasional swordplay.  As childhood icons, pirates are kind of bizarre standbys.  They’ve been popular with the young since the days of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island, and long before that as well.  All the more reason to give them their scurvy due.  If you’ve some rapscallion landlubbers with a hankering for all things buccaneer, you’d do worse than to drop anchor and try out a couple of the suggestions in this kit.  Avast, me hearties!  And a couple yo ho hos as well.

Books Discussing This Theme


Shiver Me Letters: A Pirate ABC by June Sobel, ill. Henry Cole

Ages 3-6

I won’t point out the obvious irony of a book in which a crocodile pirate captain sports a hook hand, but this abecedarian voyage to find 25 missing letters (they already have “R”) should prove to be a lot of fun. 


Pirates Vs. Cowboys by Aaron Reynolds, ill. David Barneda

Ages 4-7

It’s the ultimate smackdown. On the one side you have your tough guy pirates.  On the other, hard-bitten cowboys. The two groups nearly come to blows when they can’t communicate with one another.  Fortunately bi-cultural Pegleg Highnoon shows up to save the day in the end. Phew!


Small Saul by Ashley Spires

Ages 3-5

When we think of pirates we think rough and tumble, not short and sweet.  Little Saul, however, isn’t your typical robber of the seas.  He’s neat and likes to sing and even bake on occasion.  A good book for showing that you don’t have to be a tough guy to prove yourself a man. 



Pirateria: The Wonderful Plunderful Pirate Emporium by Calef Brown

Ages 4-7

Some pirate poetry books go for the gross.  Others go for the clever.  In this book about a place where you can get your one-stop shopping done parents will find it hard to resist a story about a place that boasts, ““[W]e put the ‘arg’ in ‘bargain’!” 


Shiver Me Timbers: Pirate Poems and Paintings by Douglas Florian, ill. Robert Neubecker

Ages 4-7

The most enjoyable spate of pirate doggerel you’re likely ever to find.  Gross and funny by turns, this is the rare book to turn kids onto the notion of poetry itself.  If you like Shel Silverstein, you’ll love this.


Pirate, Viking & Scientist by Jared Chapman

Ages 4-6

Admit it.  Pirates and Vikings have a LOT in common.  These two enemies don’t see it that way, however, so it’s up to their mutual friend Scientist to find a way to bring them together.  As crazy as it sounds, this is the number one picture book you’re going to find on teaching The Scientific Method.  It just also happens to be hilarious along the way.


The Skeleton Pirate by David Lucas

Ages 3-6

Skeletons and pirates go together like peanut butter and jelly.  When a bony captain is tossed into the briny deep by his mutinous crew, he teams up with a friendly mermaid.  Fulfill your readers’ desire for fantastical creatures AND piratical adventures all in one go.



Pirate Girl by Cornelia Funke

Ages 4-7

Finding a good pirate picture book starring a girl can be a bit difficult.  Fortunately Funke blew it out of the water (so to speak) when she penned this tasty tale of a pirate girl with a mama to be reckoned with.

Real World Facts About Pirates

Ages 3-5:

  • A pirate is a robber who sails on the sea.

  • What does “AVAST!” mean?  It means “stop” or “hold still”.

  • What’s the best way to look scary if you’re a pirate?  Set your beard on fire! That’s what Blackbeard used to do. He’d put candles in his hair and beard and then light them up. Talk about frightening!

  • What’s a pirate’s favorite pet?  A parrot!  Not only were they relatively easy to take care of but you could sell them for a lot of money.  SQUAWK!!


Ages 5-7:

  • Were there ever any female pirates?  You betcha!  Meet Anne Bonny and Mary Read.  They sailed with a pirate named “Calico Jack” Rackham in 1719, dressed like men, and fought like them too. In fact Lady Ching Shih of China commanded one of the most formidable pirate fleets in all of China during the early 1800s, with hundreds of ships under her command.

  • Pirates didn’t actual bury treasure or make people walk the plank.  But they DID have a lot of eye patches and peg legs.  You would too if you fought as often as they did.

  • Why did pirates wear earrings?  They thought the silver and gold would make their eyesight better.

  • What pirate caught the most ships? That would be Black Bart. He captured around 400 ships in the 1720s.

Apps for Exploring This Theme

Strangebeard the Pirate Princess

Ages 5-7

Who says you can’t be a pirate AND a princess? Piece together treasure maps, dance a pirate jig, show off your sword skills, and solve puzzles in this exciting little app.


Alizay, Pirate Girl

Ages 4-10

It has different settings for different ages. the app is more like a clever game with a nice back story than a straight storybook narrative.


How I Became a Pirate by Melinda Long

Ages 6-8

The picture book classic by Melinda Long and David Shannon makes a seamless transition to the app format. The fabulous story about a little boy who finds out pirates aren’t all they’re cracked up to be makes a classy adaptation, complete with options for an animated, multi-voiced audio track or silent reading, as well as a self-record feature. 

Suggested Media

What’s even better than a pirate?  A pirate that can sing!  Family musicals are just chock full of pirates, it seems.  Don’t believe me?  Consider the following then sing along to the full soundtrack later!


Pirates of Penzance

“For I am a Pirate King!”  Sure, the original filmed production of the Joseph Papp adaptation of this Gilbert and Sullivan classic is a bit on the cheap side.  But what can compare to Kevin Kline singing his heart out while doing acrobatics?  Pirates and romance and silly little patter songs. What could be better?


Peter Pan

By which I mean, of course, the classic Mary Martin edition.  You could certainly watch the Disney animated film and sing some of those songs, or go completely song free and watch Hook or the Jason Isaacs film.  But for good old-fashioned prancing dancing pirates, this show’s hard to beat.


Muppet Treasure Island

In the pantheon of piratical movie fare, this isn’t the most memorable Muppet movie.  Fortunately its songs almost make up for the fact.  Surprisingly funny and catchy all at once, it was an odd choice for a Muppet film but, in the end, an inspired one.



Singing, dancing piratical cats? Sure, why not? Growltiger’s Last Stand is a classic pirate sequence in an otherwise pirate-free musical.

Kinesthetic Activities

International Talk Like a Pirate Day

Thinking ye of celebrating?  Well the day in question is September 19th and there are LOTS of ways to pay appropriate homage to salty sea dogs everywhere.  Go to the official Talk Like a Pirate Day website to get some great ideas on how best to celebrate the day in question.  There you can do all sorts of fun things like take a Pirate Personality Test, find out your buccaneer moniker in the Pirate Name Generators, and use a Pirate Translators to find out how best to talk piratically.  Feel free to also watch this very amusing video on how to Dress Like a Pirate (On the Cheap!) by the folks behind The Day.

 Source: What About Watermelon

Source: What About Watermelon

Pirate Party Ideas

Making a piratical party that fun for kids of every age can certainly be done!  Here are some great ideas with links to their instructions:

  • Make a Watermelon SharkTalk about a memorable centerpiece! Here’s one watermelon you won’t soon forget.

  • Cannonball Cake PopsHardly any work at all!  Just purchase some chocolate donut holes and then find some of those little sword toothpicks available at any craft supply store.  A guaranteed hit.

  • X Marks the Spot GameThis activity is a takeoff on the classic "Pin the Tail on the Donkey" game. Instead of a donkey and a tail, you'll use a treasure map and a bunch of big "X"s.

  • Buried TreasureA makeshift sandbox makes the perfect treasure laden beach.  One that even the littlest pirates will love to dig in.

  • Spyglass TelescopeNo pirate is complete without his or her telescope/spyglass.  How to make it?  Let’s just say that toilet paper rolls play an integral part. 

  • Pirate ParrotsAside from the occasional monkey, a parrot is a pirate’s best friend.  Make your own!

Suggested Family Experiences (Ages 4-7):

Where does a family go with a kid obsessed with all things piratical?  Well, the most obvious answer would be the Pirates of the Caribbean rides at Disneyland.  However, unless you live near Anaheim your family might be looking for something a little more close to home.  Consider instead the following

Family Treasure Hunt

It’s just the thing for kids of every age!  Here are some surefire tips then for making yours the best.

  1. Choose a location. Here are a few age-appropriate ideas:
    • For kids 2-4, have the treasure hunt inside a home familiar to them.

    • For kids 5-8, have it inside and outside of a home.

  2. Decide on a "format" for your treasure hunt. There’s a lot more to a treasure hunt than sending a bunch of kids off willy-nilly.
    • Do you want a theme? Consider a treasure hunt involving maps and compasses or something where the kids are all in costume.

    • Do you want additional competition? You could split the kids into two teams and have them race to the treasure.

    • Do you want some sort of end game?

      • One option is a "puzzle hunt," where each clue location has a puzzle piece. At the end, the kids put together the puzzle, carefully flip it over, and see the location of the treasure written on the back.

      • Treasure hunts can also be made for a cooking party, where each clue location also has an ingredient for a certain "secret" recipe that will be made afterward.

  3. Start making clues! The rule of thumb is that kids' patience will last through about twice as many clues as they are years old.
    • Use pictures as clues. Draw or take photos of places they should investigate.

    • Make rhymes. "To find your first clue, look by the glue."

    • Incorporate games into some of the clues. For example, you could get three identical cups. Show the kids which cup you are hiding the clue under, then rapidly mix around the cups. The kids then have to guess which cup contains the clue.

    • For kids of all ages, you could turn all of the lights off in a room so it is pitch black. Tell the kids to search for the clue with flashlights.

    • Keep in mind that though the first clue should be easy, they should increase in difficulty as the hunt goes on.

  4. Decide on some way to present the first clue to the kids. The general idea is that the first clue leads in some way to another location, which has a clue leading to another location, and so on until they reach the treasure.
    • You could pull it out of your back pocket and say, "It's time to start a treasure hunt!"
    • You could try something more creative, such as hiding it in their snack or having it appear in a magic show.
  5. Make a great treasure! Put the treasure in a well-hidden spot, then have the last clue lead to it.
    • Decorate a box with pictures or construction paper, then fill it with goodies such as candy, coins, or toys.

    • Kids love praise! Include a trophy or medal for the winner.

From: http://www.wikihow.com/Make-an-Amazing-Treasure-Hunt-for-Kids


A real world treasure hunt idea for older kids?  Geocaching!  What is it? Just consider it “a real-world, outdoor treasure hunting game using GPS-enabled devices. Participants navigate to a specific set of GPS coordinates and then attempt to find the geocache (container) hidden at that location.”  There are just eight steps involved in playing:

  1. Register for a free Basic Membership.

  2. Visit the "Hide & Seek a Cache" page.

  3. Enter your postal code and click "search."

  4. Choose any geocache from the list and click on its name.

  5. Enter the coordinates of the geocache into your GPS Device.

  6. Use your GPS device to assist you in finding the hidden geocache.

  7. Sign the logbook and return the geocache to its original location.

  8. Share your geocaching stories and photos online.

From: http://www.geocaching.com/guide/default.aspx


Care to traverse the salty seas but don’t have a boat of your own?  Why not engage in some family sailing lessons?  Plenty of seaside cities offer the option for families of pairing with an experienced captain.  Even if you don’t know your jib from your yardarm, all of you will have a lot of fun learning the ins and outs of modern sailing.  

 Source: Scholastic

Source: Scholastic


Now that you’ve covered treasure and sailing, what else is left?  How about swordsmanship? The pirate who doesn’t know how to wield a weapon is hardly worth his salt, after all.  Family fencing a bit old for your little piratical crew?  Then see if you can’t find the nearest stage combat demonstration.  Whether at a local Renaissance Faire or a community theater, there’s nothing like the clash of swords to make for a rousing afternoon!

Long John Silvers

And naturally after all that fun you’re going to want to grab a bite to eat.  So go to Long John Silvers seafood and down some salty sea fare.  Arrr!

About Betsy B.

Betsy is currently New York Public Library’s Youth Materials Collections Specialist. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, reviewed for Kirkus and The New York Times and has also written the picture book Giant Dance Party, illustrated by Brandon Dorman.  In 2014, Candlewick will publish Wild Things: Acts of Mischief in Children's Literature which she co-wrote with Jules Danielson and Peter Sieruta.  You can follow Betsy on Twitter @FuseEight or at her blog A Fuse #8 Production hosted by School Library Journal.