One dark and stormy night, a salty old sea dog tells the tale of a mysterious island, bursting with pirate booty! Captain Purplebeard and his crew have already set sail by the time the cove mentions the hideous Pirate Cruncher who guards the gold…
I first came across Jonny Duddle's work through the incredible illustrations he has done for Barry Hutchison's Invisible Fiends books. His drawings of each of the Fiends sets the reader up with a perfect mental image before they even start reading the book. I have followed Jonny's blog for some time, but never had the chance to read any of his books until now. Thanks to the generous people at Templar I am now the grateful owner of this book, The Pirate Cruncher, and Jonny's latest offering, The Pirates Next Door (review to follow some time soon).
Jonny has already demonstrated to the world that he has a talent for drawing detailed characters through that Invisible Fiends work, but my first question was whether he would be able to bring these skills as effectively to a whole picture book. The answer is a resounding yes! In The Pirate Cruncher Jonny Duddle introduces us to a motley crew of fully detailed and beautifully rendered pirates, each with their very own character traits, making it the kind of picture book that young boys will love. This band of pirates is led by the avaricious Captain Purplebeard, a man who will becomes obsessed with the promise of a great treasure, and will not be swayed from his quest even when warned that a horrible sea monster may be waiting for him at the journey's end (a big old beast, who likes nothing more than a pirate feast).
This book is worth buying purely for the artwork (just wait until you get to the huge double fold-out page near the end!), but there is also a nice little tale accompanying these stunning illustrations. We first meet our pirate crew supping their ale in the Thirsty Parrot. Their carousing is interrupted by the song sung by a passing fiddler, who tells the tale of "an island of gold in the scurvy sea". As the sun rises the next morning the pirates have already embarked on their quest for the treasure, unaware that their greed as already set them on the path to their ultimate doom. Within this tale is also a subtle moral message regarding greed and how it can affect your judgement, and also blind you from the fact that you may be being manipulated (look very carefully at the mysterious fiddler).
The text of the story is largely written in rhyme, although this is not Mr Duddle's strongest attribute. Sometimes these rhymes scan very well, at other times the pattern of the rhyming changes and so some children may find this a little difficult to read for themselves. There are also some sections of text, notably that which appears in the thought bubbles of the various pirates, that do not fit with the rhyming sections and although they add to the various pirates' characters they can also tend to interrupt the flow of the story.
Kids will probably get the most from this book when it is read by a parent. However, some parents may feel a little daunted at the thought of doing the different pirate voices in character. Have no fear, for the edition I received came complete with an audio CD featuring Jonny Duddle reading the story and himself changing voice for each different character, accompanied by various sound effects and some suitably piratical music. This is one picture book that is so stunning that it is going to remain in my own collection and not get passed on to my little nephew.... sorry James!