I thought that Aaron Reynolds' 2012 picture book Creepy Carrots (illustrated by Peter Brown, shortlisted for the Cybils in Fiction Picture Books) was brilliant. Therefore, I was not surprised to find that his newest picture book, Pirates vs. Cowboys, is hilarious. I mean, really. I lost track of how many times I laughed aloud.
Pirates vs. Cowboys begins when Burnt Beard the Pirate and his crew head inland to Old Cheyenne, looking for a new place to store their loot. There, they run into Black Bob McKraw and his "gang of rip-roarin' rustlers." Trouble ensues when the pirates, who only speak Pirate, are unable to communicate with the rustlers, who only speak Cowboy. Fortunately (and in a completely non-saccharine way), a third party is able to help the two groups find (ludicrous) common ground.
You know that you are in good hands with this book on the very first page:
"Burnt Beard the Pirate was the scourge of the seven seas, the four oceans, and several lakes."
Rich vocabulary and deadpan humor. What more could the parents of a six year old want in a picture book? Pirate-talk, you say? Cowboy-talk, you say? No problem. Pirates vs. Cowboys has those in spades, too. Like this:
"Ahoy there, me hearties! Be ye knowin' where we'd be findin' a fair scrub and a swish?"
"What'd you call us, ya yellow-bellied varmints?" was Black Bob's reply. "Why don't ya mangy hornswogglers beat a trail of dust right back out of Old Cheyenne!"
What a joy to read aloud. Of course one will have to practice pirate and cowboy voices. But I'm sure that kids will be more than happy to chime in. Because the Pirate and Cowboy grammar can be a bit confusing, this may not be a good book to read with your two or three year old. But for five to eight year olds, kids who have already been exposed to cowboys and pirates somewhere along the way, Pirates vs. Cowboys should be a delight from cover to cover.
David Barneda's acrylic and colored pencil illustrations add to the humor of Pirates vs. Cowboys. On the second page spread we learn that:
"His scurvy crew had ransacked so many ships and pillaged so many villages that all their treasure had them riding low and slow."
This is accompanied by a picture of the pirate ship sailing along, almost entirely under water, with only the crow's nest above the waterline. The pictures reveal Burnt Beard to be a (bearded) six-legged octopus with sharks, a lobster, and a turtle on his crew. When they go ashore they take with them an eye-patch-wearing smaller fish in a fishbowl. Black Bob's crew of animals also includes a sentient cactus in a pot and a snake that wears a cowboy hat, sunglasses, and a kerchief. All of the pirates and cowboys demonstrate a cheerful menace.
There are, to be sure, knives and guns throughout the book. These are waved around, but never used. There are also lots of regular words used as contractions (swashbucklin', ropin', etc.). Again, this is not a book for your two-year-old. But I think that kids in early elementary school, and parents with a sense of humor, will find Pirates vs. Cowboys hard to resist. It is, of course, particularly boy-friendly. Highly recommended!
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers (@RandomHouseKids)
Publication Date: March 12, 2013
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher
© 2013 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through Amazon links may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you). You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook.