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.
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.