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Beware, Pirates! Canadian Flyer Adventures 1

by Frieda Wishinsky; Dean Griffiths, illus.

A limited vocabulary and simple, predictable sentence structures make this time-travel adventure, with its glimpse into Canadian history, easily accessible to kids who are learning to read chapter books.

Emily and Matt find a magic sled that takes them, via a talisman from Great Aunt Miranda’s attic, to the deck of Martin Frobisher’s ship Aid in the year 1577. They learn that Frobisher is an irascible, nasty man whose appropriation of the Arctic for Queen Elizabeth I has cost the life of at least one Inuit captive. After befriending Minik, an Inuit boy, they work together to release his friend who is imprisoned in the ship’s hold. Once the rescue is successfully completed, their magic sled allows Emily and Matt to return home: “You’ve done your best./ You’ve helped a friend./ Say: ‘Sled, go home.’/ It’s journey’s end.”

Wishinsky imparts information about ship life and Inuit life, both in the tale and in an afterword, but the most vivid aspect of her story is its critical perspective on Canada’s colonial history. Frobisher is cast as “that dastardly pirate” and Emily and Matt’s act of salvation functions as an early-reader effort to redress a nasty history of exploitation. As a first chapter book and teaching aid for history, Beware, Pirates! is serviceable and lively (if humorously simplistic at times); in the spectrum of didactic children’s literature through the ages, it has its own place as an example of how we instill attitude through children’s books.