Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Sea Queens: Women Pirates Around the World

Sea Queens: Women Pirates Around the World

Jane Yolen
Illustrator:  Christine Joy Pratt 
For ages 9 to 12
Charlesbridge Publishing, 2008   ISBN: 978-1580891318

It is a popular belief that pirates were fellows who sailed the world’s ocean and seas flying the skull-and-crossbones flag from the top of their ship’s mast. A pirate was a “low class dog, a dirty down-and-outer” who sported a black patch, and who was usually drunk.

Though pirates were for the most part thieves who “committed horrible deeds,” they did not all fit the above stereotype. Some pirates were from the upper class, and most worked hard, taking pride in their “democratically-run” ship. Though they might get drunk after a successful raid, much of the time they did their jobs, abiding by the articles of their ship, and living by the honor code they held dear.

Pirates were not always “fellows” either. Some were women. Indeed a few of the “greatest” pirates of all time were members of the fairer sex. In this book, Jane Yolen tells the stories of some of these women.

The first account is about Artemisia, who was an admiral and queen around 500BC. It is known that she led pirating raids against neighboring city-states, and she was so successful that the Greeks put a sizeable price on her head for her capture.

Later in the book we read about Anne Bonney and Mary Read, who many consider to be the most famous women pirates. Anne was raised in the Carolinas, and when she was still very young she eloped with a man called James Bonney. The couple went to the Bahamas, which is where Anne met Calico Jack Rackham. Anne and Jack fell for one another and Anne, dressed as a man, ran away from her husband. She, with Jack and eight other men, stole a sloop called the Vanity and became pirates.

When Mary Read was still very young, she dressed up as a boy and ran away to sea where she served as a powder monkey. While Mary was serving as a soldier she fell in love ,and after she revealed her true identity, she and her former tent mate were married. Together than ran an inn until Mary’s husband died. Not long after this event, Mary donned trousers and ran off to sea again. When her ship was attacked by pirates, she chose to join the pirate crew, and eventually she ended up serving on the Vanity with Anne Bonney.

Readers will find this carefully researched and beautifully written book quite fascinating. In all, Jane Yolen tells the stories of thirteen women who became pirates. In addition, she tells us – briefly – about ten other women pirates “about whom little is known.”

With a text that is complimented by Christine Joy Pratt’s woodcuts, this is a book that will intrigue readers. The stories will remind one that women are just as resourceful as men when it comes to breaking the law, fighting battles, and ruling criminal organizations. In short, they are not to be underestimated.