One for them: Captain Jack and the Pirates
I almost don’t want to share with you my choice of children’s book for this month. Not because I don’t think you’ll want to rush out immediately and buy/borrow it, or because there’s some sort of a national book shortage, or because I’ve already bought all the copies and I’m hoarding them, no, it’s simply because this is such a sweet and wonderful story that I don’t want to spoil it for you.
Captain Jack is the answer to the question, what happens when one of your favourite children’s writers (Peter Bently, he of the Cats Ahoy, Shark in the Dark, Magnificent Sheep in their Flying Machine and Meet the Parents fame – to name but a few!) teams up with one of your favourite illustrators (Helen Oxenbury, probably best known for We’re going on a Bear Hunt)? The result is an instant classic and a family favourite of ours from the first page.
“Jack, Zak and Caspar, brave mariners three, were building a gallion down by the sea.”
With a stick for a mast and a shirt for a sail it’s every inch the kind of sand boat I used to make when I was little. And once built it’s imagination that takes our intrepid trio out to from shore to do battle with fierce pirates and sail the seven seas. Well until their boat takes a broadside from the incoming tide and it’s every man to save himself as they land exhausted on a desert island.
It’s full of wonderfully technical sailing words that I love, just for the excuse to build them into my children’s vocabulary despite their rather landlocked childhood!
And I love the way that what’s happening in the boys’ imaginations is so beautifully overlaid with the real life day on the beach. I suspect that as far as Elma is concerned it’s all “real”, I don’t think she’s quite old enough to see the two, but Kitty is, and does, and I can see how much of a giggle she gets out of the benign pirate parents who ‘capture’ our heroes, wash them, dress them, cuddle them up, and then share ice cream all round.
it is the perfect story for cuddling up with all three of my little pirates in my arms and dreaming of sunny days at the seaside and making some plans for the summer.
One for Me: An Officer and a Spy
Picking up a Robert Harris book is like pulling on warm fluffy socks, snuggling up under a quilt with something nice and warm and just wallowing in a good story. I started with Enigma (the book that inspired the film) many years ago and I’ve yet to read a book of his that I could put down before I’d finished. Harris’ modus operandi for a story is ‘one man with knowledge fights against the system that wants him to conceal it’, and he has an incredible skill for weaving genuine historical fact into a compelling tale.
An Officer and a Spy is the story of the Dreyfus spy scandal, which a whole heap of reviews described as “the best known spy scandal in history” and which I’d never actually heard of. The historical background was that a Jewish office in the French army, Alfred Dreyfus, was convicted at military court martial of having been spying for the Germans, based on little more than supposition, and some nicely manufactured evidence which was neither shown to the defence team nor examined in open court. Having been publicly shamed and his rank stripped from him he was sent to the French penal colony at Devil’s Island. And that, give or take, is where our story starts, because just as Dreyfus lands at his god forsaken island, so our narrator, Georges Picquart, becomes head of the Statistical Section of the French army, the equivalent of MI5.
It is Picquart who realises that Dreyfus isn’t the spy and Picquart who risks and sacrifices his own position to assert his innocence. He’s painted as a wonderfully complicated and flawed individual; he fights his cause not really for someone he admits that he doesn’t really like very much, but both against and to protect an institution that he truly loves as family, the French army. And he does so in the name of honour and truth, because his conscience can’t let him leave it alone, and yet his personal morals are not free from reproach.
And the result, well if you wanted to know what happened to Dreyfus the key is that it became a scandal, so I don’t think I’m giving anything away if I say that justice is served. Eventually.
Being able to hazard a guess at the ending doesn’t spoil the story, just heighten the suspense for when the moment is going to come, and more than knowing that the volcano was going to erupt in Pompeii, and that’s the magic of a true storyteller.
Thank you so much to everyone who joined in in January for our inaugural month, I hope your reading lists grew ever longer (I’m half way through the audiobook of A Year of Living Danishly and both H and I are completely hooked – thanks Vickie!), and I’m so looking forward to seeing what you have to share this month. So please do link up below and go and say hi to Claire and Katie my lovely co-hosts – happy reading!