Pirate Nell’s Tale to Tell by Helen Docherty & Thomas Docherty

Published by Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, 2020.

I love picture books by Helen and Thomas Docherty as they always have such a positive message about the power of reading (The Snatchabook, The Knight who wouldn’t Fight) and this new book is no different.

Buoyed by all the pirate stories she’s read, young Nell joins the crew of a pirate ship with great enthusiasm. She’s hoping hers will be a life of buried treasure, sea monsters and swashbuckling. Sadly, the reality is rather different; Nell is given all the boring menial tasks like scrubbing pots and mopping floors, and the voyage is far from the adventure she imagined. Captain Gnash has banned reading on board his ship but at bedtime Nell, not to be deterred, still regales the crew with the tales of pirate adventure that she’s remembered from her books.

One night, a school of fish bring Nell a treasure map in a bottle. Captain Gnash soon snatches it from her and the ship sets sail for the treasure island. There are many dangers on the way which the captain seems ill equipped to navigate. Luckily, Nell’s trusty Pirate Almanac provides all the answers they need and she guides the boat and its crew safely to the island. However, when the pirates dig up the treasure chests, the treasure they find isn’t quite what they were expecting…

Pirate Nell’s Tale to Tell is written in rhyme and is such fun to read aloud. There’s some delightful language (“you good-for-nothing whippersnap!” is my favourite!), and lots of terrific description: thunderclaps, craggy cliffs, and a line of rocks like jagged swords.

The illustrations are fantastic, from the motley crew of pirate pups and the underwater scenes to the stormy seas and lightning-torn skies. I always appreciate a cross-section and the endpapers have a wonderful cross-section of the pirate ship, showing everything below decks. There’s so much detail and many things to notice in the pictures. For example, the slightly goofy-looking sea monster from Nell’s stories appears on most pages. And there’s something very special about the shape of the treasure island, which I didn’t spot until my second reading. I wonder if you’ll notice it too?

A terrific picture book, Pirate Nell’s Tale to Tell celebrates reading and the knowledge and joy it brings. Plus, there’s one of the best fictional libraries that you’ll ever encounter.

Rating: 💙💙💙💙

Suitable for children aged 3+

Thank you to Sourcebooks Jabberwocky for sending me this book to review.

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