Humber College writing instructor Nicola Winstanley follows up her lauded debut picture book, Cinnamon Baby (Kids Can Press, 2011), with a tale that includes several pirate tropes: squawking parrots, chattering monkeys, briny sea air, and raucous singing. What sets The Pirate’s Bed apart from other tales of its ilk is the main character – the bed itself.
Though weighed down by a hulking, smelly socked pirate, the bed is content to share the snoring man’s dreams and secrets. Then a tremendous storm ravages the ship, tosses the crew overboard (they make it to shore), and sends the bed drifting out to sea. At first happily unencumbered, the bed eventually grows lonely and longs to hold a sleeper again. After many days adrift, the bed is found, restored, and sold. Its happiness returns when its new young occupant begins to dream pirate dreams, hopeful he’ll soon learn of buried treasure.
Winstanley crafts the mood of this bedtime story through careful word choice. At times she evokes the feeling of being lulled to sleep – prominent “l” sounds (“hull,” “woolen”) resonate, and the rhythm of verbs like “dreaming” and “creaking” mimic the rocking boat. When the bed finds itself amidst a group of dolphins, the animals’ playfulness is suggested via choppier words like “dipped” and “bobbed,” while their sleekness is captured by the phrase “silvery, sickle-shaped bodies.”
Governor General’s Literary Award–winning artist Matt James’s acrylic paint and India ink illustrations playfully and artfully reflect Winstanley’s text. When a single wave lifts the ship, James depicts white hands coming out of the water, raising the boat aloft. When the bed floats on the “inky expanse of ocean,” James’s background resembles ink spills. James also has an impressive ability to convey the emotional journey of the secret-laden bed, especially through its bedpost eyes. This unique viewpoint, both in narrative and art, makes The Pirate’s Bed charming and memorable.