Tom Applecross paused at the bottom of the gangplank to the French vessel, Marie-Galante, moored at the dock at Port Pandora. The air in this part of the port city smelled of sweat and squashed bananas, of salt and freshly scrubbed wooden decks and a strange, bitter odour that Tom suspected was his own overwhelming sadness.
He turned to face his stepmother, Evlynne. He knew he had to ask her again, to plead with her one more time. He willed his bottom lip not ot quiver and took a long, slow breath.
‘Evlynne, please, please, let me stay,’ he said hoarsely. ‘I promise I won’t be any trouble. Don’t send me to Boston.’
Tom’s father is missing, believed dead and his stepmother sends him away from his loved home in the Caribbean. She tells him he is very lucky to be going to stay with family in Boston, but he is not convinced that’s the whole story. She seems much too gleeful. Not long after they set sail, they are set upon by pirates and the Marie-Galante is scuttled. Can Tom’s life get any worse? He is set adrift in the Atlantic Ocean. He reaches shore and assesses his options. He can try to return to his home, live forever on an uninhabited island, or join the pirates. None of these options are looking very promising, particularly the last. The pirates have more superstitions than seems possible and somehow, Tom seems to be responsible for all their bad luck. At least in the short term, Tom must convince them he can be useful on a pirate ship. If he can’t, he may have to walk the plank. Chapter headings include definitions of pirate words or clues about the Pirate Code.
On the Trail of the Golden Toucan is an adventure set (mostly) on the ‘high seas’. The pirates are a ragged collection of rascals with a fierce instinct for survival. They have a pirate’s code to guide their behaviour but the code seems to be flexible in its interpretation. Poor Tom struggles to make sense of it, perhaps because most of it is based on superstition. But Tom has had the advantage of an education and is able to apply logic and clear thinking to ensuring his own survival. There are ratbags and rotters everywhere, and not just on the pirate ship. There are themes of integrity, honesty, community. But first and foremost, this is a rollicking yarn about a boy thrust into an alien world who must adapt to survive. Recommended for mid- to upper-primary readers.
The Pirate Company: On the Trail of the Golden Toucan, Susan Cason Omnibus Books 2013 ISBN: 9781742990026
review by Claire Saxby, Children’s Author