The Day the Pirates Went Mad

Written by Trevor Atkins
Review by Cindy Vallar

When Emma Sharpe’s parents end up in debtors’ prison, she’s sent to a Bristol orphanage. Labeled a troublemaker, she befriends a sailor whose stories fill her with dreams of adventure and faraway places. She learns that the New Adventure is making ready to depart, so she stows away aboard the vessel.

Hunger drives her to the galley, where the cook takes her to the captain. Seeing something of himself in eleven-year-old Emma, he offers her a choice: work for her passage and join the crew or disembark at their next port of call. Before long, Emma thrives at sea, first as a powder monkey and then an able seaman. By 1702, when circumstances permit, she sends home money to pay down her parents’ debt.

New Adventure is not a typical merchant ship. Her blended crew of men, women, and children share in the profits garnered from each voyage. They also do a bit of smuggling and privateering, but never pirating. They form a cohesive unit until Emma stumbles across the sole survivor of a derelict, treasure-laden pirate ship.

Initially, the story unfolds with brief segments of the present interwoven with flashbacks of backstory. Action takes center stage later, especially once Emma happens upon the dying pirate. Geared toward tween readers, this Emma Sharpe Adventure is a story of modern inclusivity set in the past. This isn’t historically correct, but it allows readers to better identify with the characters, each of whom has a particular strength. The piratical elements are true to history, and the author includes a glossary and website where teaching resources can be found. The Day the Pirates Went Mad is a good introduction to life at sea and is written in a manner that makes the Age of Sail more interesting to today’s young readers.