7 swashbuckling pirate books

Published on: 26 March 2024

Pirate Academy author Justin Somper recommends his favourite books about pirates.

The front cover of Pirate Academy and a photo of author Justin Somper

Photo: Oliver Rosser

Pirate books – indeed pirates in general – seem to be having a bit of a cultural moment and I for one am walking the plank with that.

Just this month, my own Pirate Academy series has launched, alongside Catherine Doyle's glorious Pirates of Darksea. Everyone's been going crazy for ONE PIECE on TV and, if you want to get up close and personal with pirate history, you could do worse than plan an Easter trip to the National Maritime Museum Cornwall, to explore the Pirates: Explore Beneath the Surface exhibition.

Here are some of my own favourite pirate reads for young people, which I hope shows the richness and diversity of treasures to be found in this genre.

1. Peter Pan by J M Barrie

I'm fairly sure that Peter Pan – both in book form and on-stage at the London Coliseum – was my childhood introduction to pirates. From the lost boys to mischievous mermaids and the madcap swagger of Captain Hook, there's so much I love about Barrie's creation.

One of my favourite aspects is the heartbreaking ending when we become aware of the barrier between Peter and Wendy, now that she is a grown-up and he never will be. That disconnect is something I thought about, and drew on, when writing Vampirates.

2. The Pirates of Scurvy Sands by Jonny Duddle

When I'm asked to recommend pirate books for younger children, Jonny Duddle's brilliant Jolley-Rogers series is top of the pile for me. The Jolley-Rogers' adventures are brimming with Jonny's trademark humour – in the text and art. Frankly, any book title with the word "scurvy" in it gets two thumbs up from me!

3. The Unlikely Adventures of Mabel Jones by Will Mabbitt

I really enjoy Will Mabbitt's fresh and funny take on the pirate adventure romp. Mabel Jones is kidnapped and forced to serve aboard the pirate ship The Feroshus Maggot, captained by the wolf Idryss Ebenezer Split. If the kids in your life love this, as I'm sure they will, it's happily the first in a page-turning series of adventures featuring sparky heroine Mabel Jones, all swashbucklingly illustrated by Ross Collins.

The front covers of Peter Pan, The Pirates of Scurvy Sands, The Unlikely Adventures of Mabel Jones, The Edge Chronicles: Last of the Sky Pirates, Pirates!, Frenchman's Creek, and Pirates of Darksea

4. The Edge Chronicles: The Last of the Sky Pirates by Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell

This is the first book of the Rook Saga – a trilogy within the awesome Edge Chronicles – which follows the fortunes of the gloriously named Rook Barkwater. Rook breaks out of the sewer-chambers of Undertown to journey to the Free Glades and an encounter with the mysterious last sky pirate. This is a deeply satisfying fantasy adventure from two master storytellers.

5. Pirates! by Celia Rees

This is the sparkling, swashbuckling tale of two young women, Nancy Kington – the orphaned daughter of a wealthy merchant – and Minerva Sharpe, a slave. They meet on a Jamaican plantation in the 18th century and run away to become pirates and comrades in adventure.

Nancy and Minerva come from radically different backgrounds but piracy offers them each a rare chance for the freedom which conventional society will not grant them. Told through Nancy's writings, this is another brilliant read from the always impressive Celia Rees.

6. Frenchman's Creek by Daphne du Maurier

This is one for older teens or adults. I'm a huge fan of Daphne du Maurier's writing. Her heroine in this story, Lady Dona St Columb, is a bored aristocrat yearning for freedom and adventure, who finds more than her share when French pirate Jean-Benoit Aubery sails into her life. Lady Dona was one of the inspirations for my Vampirates captain, Lady Lola Lockwood. This one is certainly for older teen readers or indeed parents and teachers, but I had to include it because it's a firm favourite.

7. Pirates of Darksea by Catherine Doyle

A wonderful new addition to the pirate genre. With his older brother Christopher seriously ill in hospital and his parents at their wits' end, Max sets sail with Captain Malley aboard the Stolen Sunrise in search of magic. Beautifully written, incredibly atmospheric and intensely moving, Pirates of Darksea feels like an instant classic.

Pirate Academy by Justin Somper is out now.

Topics: Pirates, Features

Sign up for Pyjamarama

Spend a day in your pyjamas to raise money for BookTrust and be part of something amazing.

Register now