Cover of Ballad of the Pirate Queens by Jane Yolen

Ballad of the Pirate Queens, The

Cover of Ballad of the Pirate Queens by Jane Yolen

My editor Bonnie Verberg called and said that David Shannon–with whom I had just done ENCOUNTER–was dying to do a new book with me. (And I him!) She said he was fascinated by pirates and she had suggested women pirates. Did I know if there were any? Did I! My very first published book had been PIRATES IN PETTICOATS back in 1963, the only book of its kind to this day for young readers. “Write a ballad,” she said, “something that will replace all those old war-horses still used in schools.” So I told the story of Ann Bonney and Mary Reade, those two great friends and partners-in-crime, in bouncy rhyme. Shannon did an incredibly powerful job on the art. I understand a couple of folk singers have put the ballad to music. It was a featured selection of the Children’s Book-of-the-Month Club, a nominee for Vermont’s Red Clover Award, and an ALA Notable in 1996.

See a review in Rambles – a cultural arts magazine (on the Web).

Here’s a lovely piece of fan mail:

“Dear Ms Yolen
We love reading to our grandchildren at bedtime. The oldest, a boy, loves pirate stories and while we were skeptical about a book set in poetry, the illustrations are so compelling we thought we would give it a try when he was 5. To our surprise and delight he loved the rhythm of the words even if he did not entirely understand them. What shocked us was his suddenly reciting the words and eventually the entire paragraph with us “and silver the coins…”. It has remained a favourite.

We took the entire family to Grand Cayman for a holiday last week, and this was one book we took with. While sitting on the beach with this boy, now age 7, and his sister age 3, I told them about the island’s old name of Tortugas and the pirate history and decided to read them the book. Coincidentally one of the local ‘pirate’ ships sailed past. Both children’s eyes grew to the size of saucers. But more striking still, when I got to the third repetition of “and silver the coins”, both children recited it verbatim with me. For the rest of the week, whether at dinner, bedtime or on the beach, one or the other would spontaneously break out with recitals of that magic paragraph,with the other joining in. So…thank you.”

January 2012

What reviewers have said:

  • “Finally, equal time for female ruffians. In this picture book for older readers, Yolen’s ballad recounts the last stand of Anne Bonney and Mary Reade, real-life women pirates of the early 1700s. Yolen’s jingly rhymes…lend themselves well to theatrical reading aloud. Shannon’s very handsome acrylic paintings convey the tale’s excitement with dramatic compositions in bold reds against smoky backgrounds. The eighteenth-century feeling is enhanced by pen-and-ink borders and the use of a parchment-colored background for the text. Pirate fans will enjoy Yolen’s informative author’s note–and the alluring skull and crossed swords on the back cover.” — Booklist
  • “Yolen’s spirited verse relates the capture of the legendary pirates Anne Bonney and Mary Reade, who defended their ship alone while the men of the crew gambled below decks. The painterly artwork occasionally depicts the action but mainly alternates between portraits of the characters and illustrations of the ships at sea.” — The Horn Book
  • ” Ironic in their stateliness, Shannon’s paintings-framed, captioned in a scrawled script and otherwise composed to evoke the 18th century-display a sly humor; Mary and Anne in profile “pleading their bellies” before a judge will elicit chuckles. Not for everyone, but offbeat and grimly amusing.” — Publishers Weekly
  • “Exquisitely dramatic, and sometimes a little scary, images in the style of N.C. Wyeth illustrate this poem of the capture and freeing of the famous women pirates Anne Bonney and Mary Reade. The strong, memorable verse also continues the tradition of pirate mystique, although very small children will miss the irony of the two female renegades “pleading their bellies.” — Children’s Literature
  • ”Yolen writes a most unusual ballad of pirate adventure that sings the history of Anne Bonney and Mary Reade, the only 2 women of the 12 pirates aboard the Vanity. … Shannon’s acrylics are rich, dark, and realistic, and expand upon the story. Faces glow as they did in his work for Rafe Martin’s Rough-Face Girl (Putnam, 1992). The depth of the art is reminiscent of great classic illustrators working in oil, especially N.C. Wyeth. This is not for the faint of heart-no good pirate story is-as pirates are not a God-fearing lot. But it is for those who crave high adventure, death-defying acts, and an unflinching glimpse into history. A rousing read-aloud.” — School Library Journal
  • “Hallowe’en is quickly approaching and, trust me on this, not every girl wants to be a princess. Some would much rather be a pirate for a day. And if you plan to be a female pirate, you should be a Pirate Queen, like Anne Bonney or Mary Reade. I wish I knew about them when I was younger.The Ballad of the Pirate Queens is a book that I picked up long before I ever planned to have a child or work as a children’s librarian. It was just one of the books that are so stunning and so intriguing that I felt I had to have it for my own library. It was also my first encounter with Jane Yolen’s writing. I have since become a huge fan of this amazingly prolific writer. Every book she writes, and she writes a staggering array, is pitch-perfect. The Ballad of the Pirate Queens with its mix of poetry and history reads like a troubadour’s song. I dare you to not lilt as you read it out loud. What I love best about this book, however, is the spotlight on the female pirates.

    This book also introduced me to David Shannon’s work. Powerful and beautiful only just begin to describe the illustrations in this book. Some of the pieces of artwork in this book are so stand-alone-gorgeous that I would frame them and hang them on my wall if they were available as prints.”–Books I Buy And Why blog

Both editions are in print.