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*Backbeard and the Birthday Suit (The Hairiest Pirate Who Ever Lived)* by Matthew McElligott
Also by Matthew McElligott:

Bean Thirteen
Backbeard and the Birthday Suit (The Hairiest Pirate Who Ever Lived)
by Matthew McElligott
Ages 4-8 32 pages Walker Books August 2007 Paperback    

Backbeard is the hairiest pirate who ever lived. He’s also the most unsanitary, which makes it hard for him to keep a parrot. When the crew of the Five O’Clock Shadow throws Captain Backbeard a birthday party (which, incidentally, is an unmistakably great success because the crew members scratch, spit and hit each other with bottles before being tossed overboard by their captain), Backbeard reviews his wardrobe and decides it’s time for a change. Enter the birthday suit.

No, it’s not that kind of suit. This is a children’s book—even if it’s a hugely entertaining read for adults as well.

Backbeard goes ashore and visits a tailor with an appalling lack of proper pirate clothing in stock. The intrepid tailor convinces Backbeard to change his look and to adopt a new shoulder-riding mascot. When the pirate captain returns to his ship, his crew ridicules him, tries to drive him off the ship, and in general gives him a hard time. The pirate Backbeard isn’t feared across the seas for nothing, and he holds his own. Finally, someone throws an egg at Backbeard’s hat, a true sign of affection aboard the Five O’Clock Shadow: “I love you guys,” says Backbeard.

Backbeard and the Birthday Suit is one of those delightful children’s books that does what literature was meant to do once upon a time: It instructs as it entertains. In this case, children get a little lesson in standing up for their own ideas, be they on personal fashion style, on choice of friends (or mascots), on how to run a pirate ship, or on how to be the best (and hairiest) pirate that ever sailed the Seven Seas. Author/illustrator Matthew McElligott, who describes himself as (like Backbeard), “big, messy, smelly, and not too bright,” has created a delightful hero and crew—Mad Jack Garlic, Sweaty McGhee, Scarlet Doubloon and the rest.

A follow-up volume, Backbeard: Pirate for Hire (2007) is equally charming and clever. The illustrations are filled with little details to be discovered on first, second and subsequent readings, and the pirates are silly enough to offset any scary features. In fact, the scariest thing about these two books may be how many times parents find themselves asking their children if they want to read Backbeard again before bed.

Learn more about McElligott at his website,, where he assures visitors that he did not, in fact, write the Harry Potter series.

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  Erica Jeffrey/2007 for curled up with a good kid's book  

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