The nameless, parentless 10-year-old protagonist in Scallywag on the Salish Sea lives aboard a pirate ship – christened the Greasy Lobster – but he has very little interest in a swashbuckling life. The boy was gambled away in a game of dice by his previous guardian and is now the property of Captain Gallows. When we meet the young hero, he desperately wants to secure his freedom and find his mother, who he knows is out there somewhere.
While digging out eyeballs, cutting off heads, and cleaning out the guts of a fresh catch of pollock, the boy discovers an assortment of digested jewels. He makes a deal with the impoverished Gallows: he’ll lead the captain to a trove of treasure in return for his freedom. While the boy learns one should never make a deal with a pirate, he also becomes privy to an important truth about his past.
Author Sara Cassidy has a whimsical way with words, which makes Scallywag a fun choice for a read-aloud. The punny pirate names, the offbeat banter, the delightfully disgusting chores the boy must undertake, and, of course, the splash of pirate speak throughout the yarn will have young readers cracking up. One don’t-try-this-at-home off-note is the scene in which Gallows is choking on a fishbone and the boy intentionally delays cutting a deal and saving the captain’s life. Instead, he makes the gasping Gallows suffer through a number of cringe-worthy questions. Some of the jokes may not land with the intended young audience, but they’ll find plenty to laugh at in the high-seas humour and pirate pettiness.
Among all the zippy dialogue and zany antics are a few gentle takeaways, such as never giving up on the thing you want most no matter how dire your situation, and using your skills and talent to your advantage. (Note: pirates have a lot of respect for someone who can jazz up porridge with cinnamon, sugar, raisins, and a dash of nutmeg.)
Scallywag on the Salish Sea is not a profound, mysterious, or moralistic tale, and that’s just fine. Sometimes a hearty har-har is all a reader needs.