Flinn, like so many other boys his age, loves dinosaurs and pirates. One day at school his teacher sends him to a walk-in cupboard to look for the pens he needs to colour a dinosaur picture. While inside, Flinn hears the sound of a man crying. He is amazed to find Captain Stubble, a pirate, shaking and shuddering on the floor under a curtain. The reason for Captain Stubble’s despair is that his ship has been stolen. Flinn offers to help him get it back, and out of nowhere three of his friends appear, all clamouring to join in the adventure.
Suddenly the back of the cupboard falls away and they find themselves on board a pirate ship. Captain Stubble appoints Flinn as the new captain, as he would rather be the cook. Off they sail in search of the lost ship, the ‘Acorn’. After a long voyage they spot it through their telescope but are horrified to see that it has been taken over by pirate dinosaurs, with a mighty Tyrannosaurus Rex at the helm. They bravely attack, and soon all the dinosaurs except for T Rex jump overboard. Flinn challenges Tyrannosaurus to a duel, and miraculously keeps going until the dinosaur surrenders. Tyrannosaurus promises to be good from then on, and is so impressed by Flinn that he appoints him as the new captain of the dinosaur pirates.
Flinn, however, suddenly realises he should be back at school. They sail home while Stubble cooks shark’s fin stew for everyone. Back on shore the children wave goodbye to Stubble and Tyrannosaurus Rex, then clamber back into the school cupboard. As they creep into the classroom, Miss Pie has just finished reading a story to the class. She wonders what Flinn and his pals have been up to, but they just smile at each other and say, “Nothing really at all.”
Giles Andreae has taken two popular groups of characters in the form of pirates and dinosaurs to create a fast-paced adventure that could hardly fail to be a success, especially among young boys. When I asked a group of four-year-olds which stories they would like to repeat in their drama sessions at the end of the school year, “Captain Flinn and the Pirate Dinosaurs” was one of their three choices. (The other two were Julia Donaldson’s “A Squash and a Squeeze” and “Courtney” by John Burningham.) It is easy to see the appeal. It is, however, hard to overlook the parallel with C.S. Lewis’ “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” when Flinn and company fall through the back of the cupboard. Pre-school children of course are unlikely to be aware of this similarity. Even so, whilst there is excitement and a bravely fought duel, the story is neither original nor intriguing. The ending is also somewhat of an anticlimax.
“It is not the greatest, most imaginative story, but children of that age may not be so critical.”
Russell Ayot’s illustrations for “Captain Flinn and the Pirate Dinosaurs” are bold, humorous and highly colourful. Tyrannosaurus in his pirate rig-out has evil eyes and deadly sharp teeth, confronting puny Flinn who bravely wields his silver cutlass with a determined expression. At one point we see a fascinating cross-section of the ‘Acorn’ with almost toothless pirate prisoners tied up below deck, and Tyrannosaurus Rex grinning in anticipation as he watches Stubble (who has a great deal of stubble) stirring the stew. There’s even a bemused little blue parrot. Smoke puffs out from the kitchen against a scarlet sky.
“Captain Flinn and the Pirate Dinosaurs” is definitely a read-aloud story rather than a book for a child learning to read. The text is superimposed on the illustrations, usually on a light-coloured background but occasionally on red or blue. Some words and phrases appear in a larger font for emphasis, and one or two are in capitals in a font that looks like handwriting. Exclamation marks abound. A lot of young children are familiar with the names of various species of dinosaur that appear here, such as stegosaurus and triceratops, but that does not of course mean that they would find them easy to read. Phrases such as “All hands on deck!” or “Right, me hearties” lend authenticity to the pirate theme, but here again originality is sadly lacking.
“Captain Flinn and the Pirate Dinosaurs” is a particularly lively book that is more than likely to hold the attention of children, especially boys, aged from three up to six or perhaps seven. It is not the greatest, most imaginative story, but children of that age may not be so critical. One or two of the illustrations could be frightening for a very young child, but on the whole they are amusing and bring the story to life. This is a picture book that may not be the favourite for the adult reader, but could be very popular with a child that loves action with pirates or dinosaurs or both.
“Captain Flinn and the Pirate Dinosaurs” by Giles Andreae (Author) and Russell Ayto (Illustrator)
Puffin, 2006, Paperback, 32 pages
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