June 07, 2013

Little Jane and the Nameless Isle

by Adira Rotstein
260 pp.
Ages 9-12

When I reviewed Adira Rotstein's first book in her A Little Jane Silver Adventure series, Little Jane Silver (Dundurn, 2011), I pictured Little Jane akin to Astrid Lindgren's famous Pippi Longstocking, a buccaneer's confident daughter who enjoys adventures and mocking authority or at least nasty adults.  But I was wrong.  I did Little Jane a great disservice.  She may dream about having the sorts of adventures that her father, Long John Silver the Second a.k.a. Jim, speaks of so descriptively (!) but she is always anchored to her family and the pirates with whom they sail.  She may be determined but she is never self-serving, often thinking of others first and charitably considering others' pride before her own.  If she happens to have an adventure or two along the way, even better, because she is really tired of the "Little" moniker she has been stuck with for so long. Luckily for her, in Little Jane and the Nameless Isle, Jane comes into her own, organizing a ship, crew and rescue, all without her parents' help because they're the ones who need rescuing.

Little Jane and the Nameless Isle begins with Jane and the crew's cook, Ishiro, being the only two who escaped when her parents' ship Pieces of Eight was attacked and destroyed by the pirate hunter, Captain Fetzcaro Madsea.  Madsea has been aided by her parents' villainous former bosun, Ned Ronk, for the purpose of leading them to hidden treasure on the Nameless Isle.  On board Madsea's ship Panacea, Long Jim has been left crippled from the attack and, knowing that he isn't in a position to fight when Mary is threatened, gives up some information about the treasure.  But, not to worry.  In addition to still being in love and caring deeply for their daughter, Jane's parents are formidable pirates and they have plans of their own for Madsea and his crew, none of which require giving up their gold.

As Ishiro is gravely ill, Jane takes it upon herself to request the help of the local magistrate, Villienne, who is Britain's representative on the island and understandably opposed to piracy.  However, Villienne is a man who prides himself on taking responsibility for all the people of the island and states that "...it was quite bad form for someone to take my citizens' ship by force!" (pg. 13) Moreover, Villienne is a man of great wisdom,
"Personally, I believe violence is only the province of the impatient, the incompetent, and the seriously-out-of-options" (pg.13)
and scientific curiosity, investigating all flora and fauna and even concocting a remedy for Ishiro.  Consequently, Villienne is enthusiastic about helping Jane procure a ship, even insisting on joining the crew.  This is quite fortunate as the magistrate helps Jane decipher a code on her wooden sword, MELVIN, which points their way to the treasure on Nameless Isle.

Through encounters with tasty (though digestively-challenging) orange birds and other spiteful avian species, a moat of dangerous creatures, treacherous terrain and old friends, all the characters attempt to "hold fast", Jim's perennial message, though some are better than others at it, especially when unencumbered by faulty knock-off arms.  Jane ultimately rescues her parents, though not as straightforwardly as might have been possible.  But it doesn't matter.  Those who made fun of her are those who never mattered anyway.  And any glitches in the rescue simply open other doors to further growth and learning, which are always welcome.

In her Little Jane Silver Adventures, Adira Rotstein has created a gutsy girl protagonist, a Katniss Everdeen for the middle-grade readers.  She can stand up to nasty pirates and inflexible bureaucrats, with a sense of humour, without needing a romance to fulfill her destiny; after all, she is only twelve.  As for Little Jane's resemblance to Pippi, it is limited to their spirit and exuberance for adventures, and perhaps their southern seas locales.  But Little Jane should be every pirate-parent's daughter and every child's friend, respectfully leading only when others insist on accompanying her, aware of everyone's need to accept their own challenges, though a little push sometimes doesn't hurt. I look forward to Little Jane's next adventure, hopeful that she will continue to create stories from which her own implausible yarns may be told.

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