A Rogue Librarian's Reading List

{April 16, 2013}   How to be a Pirate by Cressida Cowell

how_to_be_a_pirate_large_coverPlot: Hiccup has caught a dragon – though a relatively useless one – and is officially a member of the Hairy Hooligan tribe. But this is only the start of his troubles. Now he must train to be a true pirate and the first step is sword fighting at sea. Hiccup is certain that this is where he will finally prove himself a worthy heir to his father, the chief. While he is dreadfully wrong, the treasure of Grimbear the Grisly, a battle of wits against Alvin the Treacherous and a fight against a rare and dangerous dragon may be the first steps toward becoming the great viking hero he is destined to be.

Like the first book in the series, How to Train You Dragon, this novel is just plain fun. It is full of potty humour, silly names and ludicrous situations that are sure to have any young boy – or your humble reviewer, who admits to a similar level of maturity – in stitches. The Hooligans’ stupidity is only matched by Hiccup’s clumsiness. He really is a terrible hero, with a lazy, proud dragon as ordinary as he is. He isn’t even particularly brave. But he prevails in the end through cleverness, friendship and luck. We know that Hiccup will win in the end – these are, after all, the memoirs of the great viking hero and dragon whisperer – but Cowell always surprises me pleasantly with the cleverness of the endings.

I also love the illustrations. They look like a kid drew them in pencil, which is really half their charm. They also really highlight the text’s humour. You can get a good laugh just out of flipping through the pages. These combined with the constant action, irreverent jokes and playful use of fonts (which REALLY make me want to read the text aloud) will make it a great read for reluctant readers too.

If I have one complaint, it’s that there are no significant female characters in the series, at all. (To be technically correct, two of the dragons are female but that doesn’t count). I’m used to – though still disappointed by – novels targeted at boys that only have one token female character. This is beyond disappointing. And I don’t want to hear the “historical accuracy” argument: if there can be such a great variety of dragons, there can be a few female vikings. Hopefully there will be in one of the future novels.

But despite these reservations, I can’t deny enjoying this series. Having read two of the books now, the movie version doesn’t even tempt me. It seems to have removed everything that was charming about the series in order to offer a more conventional tale. If I’m wrong, please let me know. Meanwhile I’ll be moving on to the third book, How to Speak Dragonese, which promises to be just as entertaining as the first two.

2013 (#20)


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