Book review: Pirates Don't Play Cricket…

Pirates Don't Play Cricket, co-written by former New Zealand bowler Iain O'Brien and maths teacher Rowan Gibson, is an action-packed, detail-filled and educational look at team-work, making new friends and learning how to throw a ball.

<b>Pirates Don't Play Cricket</b>, co-written by former New Zealand bowler Iain O'Brien and maths teacher Rowan Gibson, is an action-packed, detail-filled and educational look at team-work, making new friends and learning how to throw a ball.

The story, of pirates learning to play cricket and defeating an enemy, is illustrated by My Little Big Town publisher and cartoonist Calvin Innes, and unlike many children's books, there isn't much chance of kids losing interest in the pictures. White space on the page? Uh…no.

From the first page, where blonde boy Dan and Asian girl Priya (excellent move there, grabbing various demographics at once) walk onto a beach, talking and laughing, even an adult's attention is grabbed by the sheer riot of colours.

This book is a virtual 'Where's Wally' of amusing details only the adult reading the book will catch, from the little Ashes urn in the treasure chest on the cover, to the 'Andrew Flintoff' character hidden in the background near the end.

The plot line is surprisingly complex, and the words are not dumbed down, making for fun reading for all ages. The tale starts with Dan and Priya stumbling across some pirates playing rather average cricket, which is understandable, given their hook hands and peg-legs.

Priya, using her female common sense, tells the scowling pirates and a fearful Dan to 'stop being so silly!' and get ready to play some cricket. The kids join the game, and are soon showing their snaggle-toothed team-mates up.

The kids decide, and this is where the cute coaching moments become more obvious, to teach the pirates how to throw properly, as they're Lonwabo Tsotsobe-like in their fielding abilities.

Dan gives detailed instructions (superb if you want the kids to do the actions as you read) and lo and behold! The pirates can throw where they aim!

But then! Just as the cricket's getting more interesting, the bad-guy pirates, led by Black Dog, arrive to spoil the fun. The team-work lesson is illustrated here, as the pirates on the beach band together, using their new throwing skills, to drive the baddies away.

Given O'Brien's candid discussions about depression, it was easy to read Black Dog's arrival, and subsequent defeat, as a Dementor-like metaphor for accepting help when you need it, relying on a support system, and fighting the battle.

All this being said, adults aren't often the target market for kids' books, so we handed the pages to our tame racing drivers, otherwise known as the Grade R's (5 and 6-year-olds) at an international school in Cape Town, to see what they thought.

Their teacher, 'Miss MC', said the kids were very engaged throughout the book, even though most of them knew very little about cricket due to their ages, and enjoyed the pictures immensely, finding all sorts of details to discuss on each page.

The point of reading is obviously to learn something new, so while the cricket terminology went over their heads initially, they became more engaged with the actual story once things were explained. That does, of course, require the story-teller to know what a slip and an off-stump is.

The girls were detailed in their feedback, with Olivia saying: "It was funny to see the crab holding onto the pirate's wooden leg," while Jana, an Egyptian 5-year-old, let her feminist side free with: "I liked it when Priya stood with her hands on her hips – it looked like she was in charge."

The boys were more into the violence, amusingly, with Xander commenting: "I liked it when the coconut hit the guy's eye," and Arno (a mischievous little thing) enjoying the arrival of the villain: "I liked it when Black Dog came."

It's fair to say that the younger kids will enjoy the book for the amazing pictures, while older ones will follow the story in its entirety, with these little ones loving the pirates and battle more than the sporty bits. This leaves the book open to many re-reads, and layered lessons.

Miss MC said: "The children enjoyed the story but I think they enjoyed looking at the pictures more than anything. They found it funny though, and really enjoyed the ending."

The kids also had huge fun finding the purple octopus leg that popped up on each page, while we at C365 would like to advocate for a cricket kit range featuring the skull and cross bones the pirates wear.

<b>Lindsay du Plessis</b>