The best time to enjoy tales of pirates is when you’re a kid, when it’s all about the romance of the high seas, with no thought as to the terror, rapine and death left in the wake of these often exceedingly violent criminals. I mean, who doesn’t dream of sailing away from their troubles, swaggering through life free as a bird? I absolutely understand the appeal, even as I find adults who’re seriously into this lawless pirate stuff to be a little, if you’ll excuse the pun, unmoored from reality.
But kids should absolutely dream of exploring the world care-free, as our protagonist Pirate Pearl does in the company of her “rainbow chicken” Petunia. Pearl is actually in the middle of a voyage when she’s beset by that greatest enemy of all travelers: hunger. Hardtack just won’t cut it any more, so she and Petunia drop anchor and head ashore on an epic quest for food. Just as she’s about to expire from hunger, she’s rescued by the kindly Farmer Fay, who not only resuscitates her with some potato soup but also introduces her to the miracle that is my favorite vegetable. Best of all, Fay shows Pearl how to grow potatoes herself, whether on a farm like Fay’s or aboard a pirate ship like Pearl’s.
This seems like a simple enough story but Jennifer Concepcion and Chloe Burgett have teamed up to create something entirely magical, with help from their publisher’s sponsoring body, the American Farm Bureau Foundation For Agriculture. Pearl is an utterly charming main character who is fully committed to the (pirate) bit in the way of all imaginative children. Fay is her good-natured mentor who is happy to play along but also knows when to guide Pearl’s piratical ways back to the strait (lol, I’m sorry, I love pirate jokes and puns) and narrow.
So far, so agricultural, but Fay is also a person of color in a position of benevolent authority, while Pearl is both a person with disabilities and a kid allowed to express genderfluidity without being scolded into heteronormativity. Some dope reading this will say, “what does it matter if Pearl actually does use a mobility device for her leg? Why are you making such a thing of the fact that she gets to draw on a mustache whenever she feels like it?” Well, reader, representation matters, especially if you want more and more kids to feel included in learning about where our food comes from, and thus empowered to participate. Mss Concepcion & Burgess clearly care about inclusion, and that generosity of spirit really made me feel better about where we’re going as human beings and as a society that genuinely wants to build a good future for all and not just some.
(I may still be seething from some clown making Jonathan Van Ness cry because he had to defend trans rights for the umpteenth time. I don’t usually care enough about celebrities to rush to their defense, but between the attacks on him and Sophie Turner being smeared with transparent lies, it has been a WEEK. But I digress, ahem.)
Potatoes For Pirate Pearl is delightfully written and illustrated, with a ton of excellent details in the latter that inject not only humor but also reality into the proceedings. This picture book also includes tips for growing potatoes, fun facts about the tuber and, most importantly to my interests, recipes! I had to try out this one:
Farmer Fay’s Potato Soup
2 pounds (about 6 medium-sized Russet potatoes scrubbed, peeled, and chopped into 1-inch cubes
Enough water to cover potatoes
3 cups whole milk
1/4 cup of butter (half a stick)
Salt and pepper to taste
1. Cover potatoes with water in a large soup pot.
2. With an adult’s help, cook over medium heat until potatoes are tender when poked with a fork. This usually takes 20 minutes.
3. Using pot holder, remove the pot from heat and drain.
4. Add milk and butter to the potatoes in the pot. Place pot back on medium heat and allow milk to bubble slightly around the edges of the pot, about 5 to 10 minutes.
5. Remove from heat and ladle into soup bowls.
6. Serve with salt and pepper to taste.
Kids have weird palates, so while the above is a great starter recipe, I do recommend several tweaks to make the final dish easier to consume for those of us with more refined tastes. While heating the potatoes in milk, I would suggest mashing them down a bit and stirring in order to thicken the liquid. Salt is also an absolute necessity, with garlic salt, as always, being my first choice for this. I’d also recommend adding some bouillon for more body: a cube of chicken stock was my go-to, but vegetable, beef or seafood could also work well here.
Gosh, this picture book made me so nostalgic for my own childhood adventures learning how to sail an Optimist, exploring the equatorial jungle, and devouring Arthur Ransome’s Swallows And Amazons series about kids pretending to be pirates. I recently bought the entire collection for my kids, who have so far been lukewarm on the books — so many words! so few pictures! — but I’m honestly tempted to dive back in myself. Fortunately for my kids, even more accessible books like Potatoes For Pirate Pearl exist to get them reading and learning, not only about the special childhood joys of pretending to be a pirate but also about how fun and rewarding it can be to grow and cook your own food, whether as a child or an adult.
Potatoes For Pirate Pearl by Jennifer Concepcion & Chloe Burgett was published September 19 2023 by Feeding Minds Press and is available from all good booksellers, including