Shiver me timbers! Is it International Talk Like A Pirate Day already? Indeed, Mateys, indeed! Which means it’s time to pull up a barrel and get ready for some of the best middle grade storytelling I’ve seen since Ruthie Bluetooth drank a wee too much grog.
Caroline Carlson’s debut middle grade novel Magic Marks the Spot is the first in The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates trilogy and I’ll be counting my blessings about that. The action packed adventure is funny and engaging. Caroline’s characters jump off the page and pull you into their watery surroundings. She makes use of her amazing knowledge of the English language (I know. She’s proofread my manuscripts.) to create a send-up of High Society norms and expectations. Main character Hilary, challenges what it means to be a lady, a pirate, and a friend and for that, I admire her. My favorite quote from the book: “Running away and pursuing one’s dream was quite a piratical thing to do.”
Caroline embraces the silly pirate genre but sets it in a world of magic whose rules are well-defined. Letters, articles, excerpts from the Official Very Nearly Honorable Pirate League Guide, and A Young Lady’s Guide to Augustan Society further the plot, provide comic relief and give readers a deeper understanding of the world. The design of the book is incredible. Deckled edges give the book the old world feel. Add to that unique stationary and handwriting for each character, and of course–– a map. According to my children, “If it has a map, it has to be good.” I can tell you that I held 12 children from 8 to 14 in rapt attention as I read the beginning aloud this weekend. As I finish the book, I’m happy to say that there be twists and turns aplenty.
Hilary Westfield has always dreamed of being a pirate. She can tread water for thirty-seven minutes. She can tie a knot faster than a fleet of sailors, and she already owns a rather pointy sword. There’s only one problem: The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates refuses to let any girl join their ranks of scourges and scallywags.
But Hilary is not the kind of girl to take no for answer. To escape a life of petticoats and politeness at her stuffy finishing school, Hilary sets out in search of her own seaworthy adventure, where she gets swept up in a madcap quest involving a map without an X, a magical treasure that likely doesn’t exist, a talking gargoyle, a crew of misfit scallywags, and the most treacherous—and unexpected—villain on the High Seas.
Caroline is another graduate of (NO– not Miss Pimm’s Finishing School for Delicate Ladies) Vermont College of Fine Arts and their Writing for Children and Young Adults program. I’m happy to call her my mate in the League of Extraordinary Cheese Sandwiches– pirates each and every one. And so, with that in mind, I unfurled me sails and boarded me land cruiser (The Concord Coach & Commuter Rail)
to Wellesley Bookstore and Caroline’s launch last Thursday.
(She might look like a Miss Pimm’s girl but she be pirate through and through.)
Where I helped tote in grog and vittles with Caroline’s mom.
She be makin’ fine sweets though, eh?
When the place was packed to the crow’s nest with family and friends, Allison, who runs a tight ship, introduced Caroline, captain of the evening.
Caroline read the grab-you-with-her-hook beginning of the book then told about the process of writing and publishing. It was no pleasure cruise even for an experienced sailor like herself.
Good thing that Wellesley Books had plenty of stock because the lines were long for Magic Marks the Spot.
Happily, plenty of VCFA mateys came along to celebrate! Congratulations, Caroline.