I'm just back from spending some time with my two grandsons. The eldest, Oskar, is just six, and I had the great privilege of reading his bedtime stories to him every night I was there. His prize present for his birthday was a beautiful pirate ship, complete with treasure, pirates, all kinds of weapons and nautical instruments, and a parrot - so the stories of choice were all pirate ones.
We liked them all, but our favourite was definitely Captain Flinn and the Dinosaurs, written by Giles Andreae and illustrated by Russell Ayto. The story begins in an art class, where Flinn has just drawn a picture of a dinosaur. (Dinosaurs are his favourite thing.) He needs some more colours, so the teacher sends him into the store cupboard... where he is a little surprised to find a pirate captain, who is crying over the loss of his beautiful ship, the Acorn: it has been stolen, says Captain Stubble, and he needs Flinn's help to get it back. Flinn agrees to help, and three of his friends volunteer as well. Does Captain Stubble have any clues as to who might have done this dastardly deed, says Flinn? All Stubble can tell him is that the perpetrators sang a terrible song as they sailed away, which went something like this:
Yo ho ho, yo ho ho,
Go go go!
(Apologies if this isn't quite accurate - it would have been a bit off to filch the book from Oskar for the purposes of this review, so I can't check.)
Flinn and his friends follow the captain to the back of the cupboard - which falls away to reveal a patched up old ship which is waiting by the quayside. Captain Stubble informs Flinn that he would much rather be ship's cook than captain, so Flinn agrees to take over his duties, and off they go.
They soon catch up with the Acorn, and realise, to their horror, that it has been stolen not by mere pirates, but by pirate DINOSAURS! Undaunted, Flinn and his crew board the Acorn, and despite the fearsome nature of their adversaries, they eventually vanquish them, and sail the ship back to the store cupboard in triumph. As they arrive back in the classroom, the teacher mildly enquires what took them so long.
Somehow, this book brings off the very clever trick of appealing just as much to the adult reader as to the child who's listening. It's a simple enough story, with no real twists and turns (except for the unusual nature of the pirates), and yet it works really, really well. One element of its success is of course the clever juxtaposition of two favourite baddies, pirates and dinosaurs. But I think mostly it triumphs because of the character of Flinn. He's brave and impulsive and kind, just as a hero should be - but there's also a wry humour about him that really appeals to adults. (Well, to this adult anyway.) He copes calmly with whatever happens: pirate captain blubbering in the store cupboard? No problem. Can you take charge of a ship? Absolutely. Okay to take on a duel with a Tyrannosauraus Rex? Of course, why not? Whatever happens, we can feel confident that Flinn will cope with a quip and a smile.
The pictures are great and full of detail, but I have to admit that with this book, we didn't spend a lot of time examining the pictures as we usually do - we just had to keep turning the page! Oskar's book was a collection of the three stories in the series, which was exclusive, I think to Waterstones. Otherwise you will need to buy the stories separately. They're published by Picture Puffin.
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