Friday, January 21, 2011

Guy Friday: The Young Boy and the Sea

Because Westervillle City Schools has a snow day, I wish I had Northrup's Trapped to read, but I was thinking about swash-buckling sea stories. This is not something a lot of boys ask for, but I'll have one or two every year who can't get enough. I didn't include the many older titles like Treasure Island; 100 years ago, sea stories were the big thing. I also didn't include the girls-at-sea books like The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle.

Dowswell, Paul. Powder Monkey.
This first book in a trilogy finds young Sam Witchall leaving his family to go to sea in 1800. Things are going well until he is pressed into joining the British Royal Navy and finds himself assigned to the worst job-- bringing gun powder to the ships' guns. There's certainly a lot of other work, which is vividly portrayed, and many battles to fight in, since the British are at war with France and Spain. Sam would love to try to escape from service, but knows that his chances are slim. He is helped by a colorful cast of shipmates, only some of whom are deliciously dastardly. After Sam's ship goes down after a battle with the Spanish, he and a few shipmates make their way to a small village along the coast and have to decide whether to run away or return to the navy.

Strengths: The descriptions of everyday life on a ship at this time are well done. We find out about food, hygiene, work, and how ships were run. Since Sam is the age of my readers, I am sure this makes it easier for them to insert themselves into this adventure and bewail the fact that they are stuck in the middle of Ohio!

Weaknesses: There was a lot of turnovers in characters, and I would have liked to see some of the ones who were killed developed more, but that is also true to life. People died more frequently than we are used to today.

I am excited to see that Dowswell's newest book, Auslander, about a boy living in Berlin during World War II, is being published in the US in August.

Avast, me hearties! Here are some other good tales of the sea!

Avi. Beyond the Western Sea.
Cadnum, Michael. Ship of Fire
Cadnum, Michael. Peril on the Sea
Hawes, Charles Boardman. The Dark Frigate
Hesse, Karen. The Stowaway.
Hobbs, Will. Leaving Protection
Jacques, Brian. Castaways of the Flying Dutchman.
Lawrence, Ian. The Castaways (et alia)
O'Dell, Scott. The Black Pearl
Paulsen, Voyage of the Frog
Somper, Justin. Vampirates


  1. My favorite "pirate" story is Captain Blood. Probably not something middle school students these days would want to read, however. ;-)

    We own the Black Pearl (O'Dell), but no one in our house has read it. Guess I'll read that next! Thanks!

  2. Slave Dancer probably qualifies. Um. I mean, if The Black Pearl does.

    My boys loved the Horatio Hornblower books, although I think it helped that their Dad has the DVDs.

    Do your boys really dislike girl protagonists so much? My 6th grader doesn't really care what gender the characters are, so long as they are doing fun stuff.

  3. My students love Peter and the Starcatchers! Thanks for the review and the list of books--both are great!

  4. Glad to hear Dowswell has a new book.

    I loved the POWDER MONKEY series.


  5. I love that you're doing a Guy Friday! I'll try to link you in mine next Friday :)

    And great pick!