Book Review: “How to Be a Pirate” by Cressida Cowell

How to Be a Pirate continues the tale of Hiccup Horrendous Haddock the Third as he goes through his training program, this time with a specific focus on “Pirate Training.”

In the midst of pirate training Hiccup decides to try his hand at something his family is particularly good at which is sword fighting, but in true Hiccup fashion, he’s not. In the midst of his struggle his cousin, who looks every bit like a true viking, decides to take the challenge from harmless practice to deadly reality.

“While everybody was concentrating on watching this massacre, Snotlout sneakily picked up Dogsbreath’s sword and removed the wooden case.”

While in the last book Snotlout was essentially Hiccup’s rival and bully, this book establishes that Snotlout wants to be next in line to be chief at any cost, and if he could orchestrate Hiccup’s murder he would. Thankfully he gets foiled but it’s a bit disturbing to find in a children’s book character.

The main adventure of the book  is related to treasure, like any good pirate themed book should be. In this case they find a coffin that says on it’s outside:

“Beware do not open this coffin curse be he who disturbs the remains of Grimbeard the Ghastly the greatest pirate who ever struck Terror into the inner Isles.”

Grimbeard the Ghastly is one of Hiccup’s ancestors, specifically his great great grandfather. He’s considered a hero and one of the best Pirates to ever, not just in the Hooligan tribe. So of course the tribe thinks his coffin is full of treasure, despite clearly saying not to open it. Instead they find a living (just barely) man named Alvin the Poor-but-Honest-Farmer. And if there is one draw back to having sketches in your children’s book it’s this. Alvin the Poor-but-Honest-Farmer looks nothing like a Poor-but-Honest-Farmer. From his strange name to his scheming side eye and mustache and even his hook. But he’s charming and tells them a tale of woe and everyone is concerned for him and about him, especially since he seems to have come bearing only good news and good will, after all he’s appeared to try and help them find Grimbeard the Ghastly’s treasure which can only be found by his true heir.

One could argue that Alvin the Poor-but-Honest-Farmer is a case of just being drawn to look like he’s up to something, in a similar way to Jessica Rabbit. However that’s not usually the case for children’s books and I felt a bit like it spoiled things by showing a picture of him before describing him and letting the reader become suspicious on their own. Kids are pretty smart after all.

I think while I did enjoy the first book but was disappointed in the differences between it and it’s movie (which I loved) I found this one more disappointing. It’s essentially the same thing, which I get happens with kids books or even one could argue, most books. Hiccup is roped into school that he’s not good at, his friend Fishlegs unwittingly puts him in more danger, Snotlout tries to kill him/become Chief, his father is disappointed in him, his place as heir to be Chief and in the tribe becomes unsure, the tribe makes stupid mistakes because they refuse to believe the warnings written literally in front of them or use their brains, Hiccup saves the day, nearly at the cost of his own life, usually by talking to some creature and sometimes with Toothless’s help or in despite of Toothless’s actions.

But I’m going to persevere. I got7 of these books from Aladdin. I’m determined to read them all.

Do you like books with sketches? Has the art in a story ever spoiled it for you?

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