• Happy birthday to the New York Times, first edition published in 1851 (sold at 2 cents a copy).
  • In 1977, the U.S. Voyager I takes the first space picture of Earth and Moon together. Read From the Earth to the Moon by Jules Verne.
  • On this day in 1990 a six foot tall, five-hundred-pound Hershey Kiss was displayed in Times Square.
  • National Clean Hands Week (18–24) begins today. Read Wash Your Hands! by Tony Ross.
  • It’s also Substitute Teacher Appreciation Week (18–24). Read Miss Nelson is Missing! by Harry Allard and James Marshall.

Today we are merely preparing for tomorrow, one of the best days on the calendar—International Talk Like a Pirate Day. Because before you can talk like a pirate, you have to read about them.

Pirates remain fascinating for children, and in Treasure Island R. L. Stevenson brings together pirates, maps, and one-legged seamen with parrots on their shoulders. Today I’ll focus on Treasure Island; tomorrow, I’m going to show how inventive pirate tales have become in the twenty-first century with Philip Reeve’s Larklight.

Treasure Island began, as do so many children’s books, as a story told to a single child: Robert Louis Stevenson’s stepson. Published in 1881, the story moves from one tense moment to another, from the opening scene when a mysterious seaman, Billy Bones, arrives at the Admiral Benbow Inn. Young Jim Hawkins narrates the tale, and Long John Silver serves as the arch-villain, a character who now stands as the archetypical pirate. Eventually a band of heroes find the island, discover its treasure, and escape, managing to foil the pirates in the process.

Without a doubt, the best version of the book remains the Scribner classic edition, with art by N. C. Wyeth. He creates characters, sets scenes, and makes it possible to visualize Stevenson’s masterpiece. Once asked to pick a single illustration from American books that I could not live without, I chose “Blind Pew tapping up and down the road” from this volume. In Everything I Need to Know I Learned from a Children’s Book Andrew Wyeth says that illustration set him on his path to become an artist, and the actor Robert Montgomery says it inspired him to become an actor.

But back to Talk Like a Pirate Day. An old pirate tune appears in the book:

“Fifteen men on the dead man’s chest—

Yo-ho-ho, and a bottle of rum!

Drink and the devil had done for the rest—

You-ho-ho, and a bottle of rum!”

As a child, I had no idea what these words meant—nor do I really now—but I couldn’t resist the sound of them. So get reading and start salting away some catchy phrases for tomorrow. Shiver me timbers! Or my favorite Long John Silver quote from Treasure Island, “Them that die’ll be the lucky ones.”

Here’s an excerpt from Treasure Island :

“There!” he cried, “that’s what I think of ye. Before an hour’s out, I’ll stove in your old block-house like a rum puncheon. Laugh, by thunder, laugh! Before an hour’s out, ye’ll laugh upon the other side. Them that die’ll be the lucky ones.”

And with a dreadful oath he stumbled off, ploughed down the sand, was helped across the stockade, after four or five failures, by the man with the flag of truce, and disappeared in an instant afterwards among the trees.


Originally posted September 18, 2011. Updated for .

Tags: Adventure, Pirates
Instructional materials from TeachingBooks.net for Treasure Island


  1. Bobbi Miller says:

    This is one of my all time favorite books, and one of my all time favorite authors. AND one of my all time favorite illustrators. I love the NC Wyeth collection and have quite a few of the books. I’ve lost count how many times I’ve read this through the years. I think I’ll have to read it again. Thank you for the inspiration!

  2. Tina Hanlon says:

    This is one of the all-time favorite books of playwright R. Rex Stephenson and he wrote a play adaptation that was published in 1995. It has a frame story about Stevenson writing the book for his stepson. I’ve seen it in two different productions at Ferrum College and enjoyed it.

  3. Tamson says:

    I love this book. We just listened to the audio version read by Alfred Molina and it was fantastic. I wrote a little writing exercise for it on my blog, in case anyone’s interested: http://tamsonweston.com/blog/writing-exercise-your-after-vacation-vacation.

  4. Like Bobbi Miller, I’ve also lost count of the number of times I’ve read Treasure Island. Currently, it’s at the top of a stack of books on my bedside table, patiently waiting until I finish The War of the Saints (Jorge Amado.) Kidnapped is also one of my favorites. Thanks for including this wonderful book, matey. er . . .I mean, Anita.

  5. Chauntelle says:

    I love Treasure Island! Definitely a favorite, thanks for sharing!

  6. Connie Rockman says:

    That audio edition narrated by Alfred Molina, published by Listening Library, was one of the honor audio titles (2008) for the first-ever Odyssey award, given by the Association for Library Service to Children for excellence in audio production. Listening to a superb audiobook is a magical way to recapture this old favorite title … enhanced, of course, if you have a copy of the Wyeth edition to dip into for the illustrations.

  7. Anita says:

    Connie: Thanks for this audio recommendation. This is a great book to read aloud or listen to.

  8. Nathalie Foy says:

    Andrew Motion has written a sequel to Treasure Island, Silver. It’s the story of Jim’s son, and a return voyage to find the treasure. Good fun.

  9. Judy Plum says:

    I am just reading Nancy Horan’s Under a Wide and Starry Sky. It is a novelization of the marriage of Robert Louis Stevenson and his American wife. Stevenson’s own life was one of travel and adventure much like one of his books!

  10. Susan Golden says:

    When I was young (and I am 70 now) I filled long summer days with long, wonderful books like Kidnapped and Treasure Island, and Howard Pyle’s books. I wonder if children actually read these anymore. I know length is no longer an issue after Harry Potter but these books were old fashioned even in the 50’s though that didn’t bother me a bit. I also enjoyed Nancy Horan’s novel about the Stevensons.

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