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Pirate Diary, The Journal of Jake Carpenter by Richard Platt and Chris Riddell

Winner of the Kate Greenaway Medal, this book screams “Ahoy Matey!” and “Shivers me Timbers!” with such painstaking realistic details and panache, that I literally feel the need to wear an eye patch, sport dreadlocks and find me a hooked hand for Halloween.

Truth be told, I am not a fan of sea-stories (I yawned considerably while I was reading Moby Dick and gave up after the first chapter) – my understanding of sea navigation and all its jargon (starboard, portside, quarterdeck, foremast) is severely limited and I frankly do not have the patience (or the interest) to really know them in-depth – with the exception of Johnny Depp’s Pirates of the Caribbean of course.

Jake Carpenter’s story, as seen in Richard Platt’s award-winning picture book has surprisingly succeeded in keeping me awake throughout (ok, there were a few occasions when I had to take a breather every now and again, but that’s the girl in me, you see – I’m sure boys would have a difficult time putting the book down). I looove that there is an idiot-friendly image at the very beginning of the story which would make the ship-navigation-terms familiar (even endearing) to the readers.

And as is customary with Chris Riddell’s unique drawing style, the pictures in each of the pages truly come alive (Their solid partnership [Platt-Riddell] is also seen in Castle Diary as reviewed by GatheringBooks here).

The journal begins on the 23rd of September, 1716: “the third year of the reign of our good King George, and the tenth of my life.” Hence, it is a narrative of a ten year old boy’s journeys and adventures aboard a ship known as the Greyhound. Jake excitedly writes in his diary:

“Now, though, my life is to change, for I am to GO TO SEA! My father wants me to study medicine but believes I should see more of the world first. Thus I am to become a SAILOR – at least for a while.”

Jake is left in the care of his Uncle Will, an interesting fellow who is also a sailor. Jake described his father’s brother in this manner:

“Will has told me of sea monsters, mermaids, and of floating islands made of ice. He has seen a whirlpool, sailed through a hurricane and escaped from pirates. And soon I am to see all of these things FOR MYSELF.”

The reader could sense Jake’s excitement, energy, and anticipation for this new phase in his life. Little did he know that his life was about to change, indeed, in ways that he did not foresee.

While Jake’s story is technically fictitious, Richard Platt’s genius effectively brings to life a narrative that is historically accurate and typical/representative of the life of any young boy of Jake Carpenter’s age during this period. Through Jake’s journal entries, one gets a feel of how life is like aboard a ship. Much as I love the sea, I can not for the life of me imagine spending months with nothing on sight but the endless vista of the oceans. Through Jake’s routines and the little daily activities that they do, the chores that he has to perform for the other ship mates (and the fierce captain of course), one gets a clear sense of how life was like back then. Richard Platt’s brilliance is evident in how he is able to make the ordinariness of daily living (food eaten, where the potty is – there is such a thing as a “piss-dale” onboard a ship, even sleeping quarters) sound so amazing.

Through Jake’s stories, one also gets a picture of the rules/regulations which seamen/sailors have to live by. For months, they are isolated in the middle of the ocean, they have to find a system that works so they won’t end up cutting each other’s throats. Jake talks about the ten “articles” (or rules) that they have collectively created as a group. An example of a rule that they have created was “A Man that strikes another shall receive Moses’ law (39 lashes) on his bare back.” Punishments are severe for those who fail to conform to/abide by the system. This picture shows a man being flogged with the whip’s “nine tongues” – blood spraying upon the deck – a punishment meted out by the captain himself.

I also like this image because it shows how unschooled/untrained individuals are able to perform surgery in the absence of medical doctors onboard the ship in case a shipmate gets sick. Jake writes down in his journal:

“Already the wound has maggots and unless his leg is cut off below the knee, he will surely die. All agreed that Adam would make the best surgeon, because he is handy with a saw.”

I wonder if this qualification is still considered essential for would-be medical doctors nowadays.

More than the swash-buckling adventure that each of the pages of the book have to offer and its quick-witted, sharp, fast-paced narrative complemented with strikingly colorful illustrations – Pirate Diary also demonstrates how one’s life and destiny at the time seems to be tossed and turned and literally navigated by the winds of chance and waves of circumstance.

It paints a picture of how a random ten year old boy wanting to see mermaids and sea monsters (and supposedly meant to become a medical doctor) instead becomes a pirate’s assistant shooting off capitanos and earning precious gold coins in the process. The exciting lifestyle of pirates is tempered with the very realistic tone set by Richard Platt (and Riddell’s masterful drawings) – thus piracy is viewed sans the romance and the Johnny Depp image constantly clouding one’s vision.

Most educators would also like the fact that – as is the usual with Richard Platt’s Diary series – this book contains extensive notes at the very end which contextualize Jake’s historical period with what was happening in that part of the world with the American colonies, England, and the turbulent relations between Britain and Spain. Young boys (and girls who are very much into this) would also be happy with a “History of Piracy and the lives of the most famous rogues” found in the notes section. The famous Blackbeard’s story can be found here as well as a short narrative about female pirates named Mary Read and Anne Bonny.

If you want to know what it’s like to be “marooned,” what it means to “careen” a ship, what a “cannon contest” looks like, and have a feel of what it means to “walk the plank” then this book’s definitely for you.

Book was borrowed from the Community Library
Book photos were taken by me

Myra is a Teacher Educator and a registered clinical psychologist based in Al Ain, United Arab Emirates. Prior to moving to the Middle East, she lived for eleven years in Singapore serving as a teacher educator. She has edited five books on rediscovering children’s literature in Asia (with a focus on the Philippines, Malaysia, India, China, Japan) as part of the proceedings for the Asian Festival of Children’s Content where she served as the Chair of the Programme Committee for the Asian Children’s Writers and Illustrators Conference from 2011 until 2019. While she is an academic by day, she is a closet poet and a book hunter at heart. When she is not reading or writing about books or planning her next reads, she is hoping desperately to smash that shuttlecock to smithereens because Badminton Is Life (still looking for badminton courts here at UAE - suggestions are most welcome).

3 comments on “Pirate Diary, The Journal of Jake Carpenter by Richard Platt and Chris Riddell

  1. Pingback: Egyptian Diary – The Journal of Nakht by Richard Platt and illustrated by David Parkins |

  2. Pingback: Meet the Storyteller: Richard Platt, GatheringBooks December Feature |

  3. Pingback: Richard Platt’s Diaries – Featured Storyteller for December 2010 » Behind the Books

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