Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Book Faire

It's Book Faire week at my kids' school, and I met my son's class this morning to check out the selection with him - and to keep him from blowing his money on crap toys, the number of which seems to proliferate each year, unfortunately.

He picked out a book on baseball's greatest hitters, and another on snakes - complete with 3D glasses - and finally, You Wouldn't Want To be a Ninja Warrior! a book I pointed him toward knowing his love of Ninjago.

I'd never heard of the You Wouldn't Want to Be . . . series before, but in addition to the book on ninja warriors, I also purchased two other titles, You Wouldn't Want to Be a Samurai! and - this will surprise no one - You Wouldn't Want to Be a Pirate's Prisoner!

Pirate's Prisoner describes the fate of a Spanish treasure ship captain captured by pirates in 1716. The book opens with a description of the treasure and supplies aboard the captain's galleon, a map of the Caribbean, and a description of sailing in convoy for protection. After the ship is separated from the convoy, English pirates swoop in aboard a fast-moving sloop and capture the galleon. What follows describes the trials and tribulations inflicted on the Spanish captain as the pirates attempt to learn more about the treasure fleet's course. In the process the book covers everything from how ship's crews manage their food and water to the rules of piracy to what the various crew members on a ship are called and what they do - and it also describes, in clear-eyed detail, different tortures inflicted by the pirates on their prisoners, including flogging, keelhauling, and more, as well as the fate of the pirates once they are captured and brought to justice.

I'm impressed by this book for a couple of reasons. First, I like that it doesn't attempt to talk down to kids. The darkly comic illustrations manage to present the gravity of the Spanish captain's situation - and the reality of pirates' treatment of prisoners - without devolving into grotesque horror. Second, it's a remarkable resource on life at sea in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries.

For gamers who want run or play in a historical roleplaying game campaign, children's books, particularly the study guides found in teachers' supplies stores, offer a great alternative to academic history texts or even popular history books. They present details of daily life in ways that many history books written for adult audiences don't; if you want to know the material culture of a medieval knight, or a Renaissance painter, or a wagon train scout, you could do far worse than finding a children's book on the Crusades or Michelangelo or Westward Expansion. Better still, they tend to be much more extensively illustrated than history written for adults. In short, children's books often have exactly the sorts of details which gamers want for running a historical campaign.

8 comments:

  1. I didn't know about that series - thanks for the heads up! I added that one from the library - it looks like the local network has most of them in circulation. I'm sure the kids will get a chance to read them, too.

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    1. You're welcome. I think I'll take the kids to the library on Saturday and see what we can find.

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  2. Interesting. I had a very different reaction to that series but I was introduced to it through the book on the Middle Ages which I found to be rife with inaccuracies, prejudices for "enlightened" modern life, and ugly illustrations.

    We have a large, and growing, collection of great historical books, both heavily illustrated (DK, Usbourne, David Macaulay) and lightly illustrated (Life in a Medieval Barony, A Day in Ancient Rome, etc.) that the boys read.

    Some of the books we have are newer copies of the same texts I devoured when I first discovered D&D some 20-odd years ago. Others are ones I've discovered since.

    I might need to take a look at the ones you've mentioned. Those are lacunae in our present library.

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    1. Nothing jumped out at me from the two I read so far - Pirate's Prisoner and Samurai - as inaccurate, but I'm sure with such a lengthy series the quality may vary a bit.

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  3. That is one series I would love to have for my school library. Unfortunately, there's no German translation.

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  4. Thanks for the pointer, Mike: I just added the ninjas and pirates book to the boys' wishlist for Christmas :D

    Allan.

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  5. I leafed through a copy of this book in the gift shop of the Treasure Island in Las Vegas about four years ago. I remember being quite surprised that what appeared to be a kids' book had pretty extensive details on torture. I almost bought it...now I kind of wish I had.

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    1. I think it manages to be frank without being gratuitous, which I like. The only thing that made my kids - ages eight and six - go, 'Ewwwww!' was the skeleton in chains.

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