If you've ever glanced at the side of a Kellogg's cereal box, you might have read some words written by Kevin Charles Smith. "Over the past 25 years," Smith says, "I was responsible for the copy on billions of Kellogg Company cereal back panels and side panels. It would be foolhardy for me to believe that this effort prepared me to author any manner of work." And yet, the late-blooming author has just seen the publication of the third book in his Bilge Rat Pirate Adventurer series, Demon Pirate (Journey Publications), which follows the exploits of the Black Tarantula as he sails the seas of the West Indies.
Smith admits to having a bit of a pirate problem: "As a pirate aficionado of yore, I have been addicted to, and have systematically sought out a host of, pirate media, be it buried in movies, books, or magazine and internet articles." Smith counts Disney's Peter Pan as a significant early influence, even if it was somewhat lacking in verisimilitude.
As he came of age, Smith delved into researching the golden age of piracy—an at times challenging venture. As Smith quickly learned, many original historical documents had been destroyed by seawater, and few firsthand accounts existed in the first place: documented evidence of piracy could mean "a date on the gallows," Smith says. "Pirates, for the most part, were illiterate. When the proverbial ‘X marks the spot' is associated with this uneducated band of heathens, it certainly refers more to their inability to read or write."
So Smith decided to spin his own pirate yarn, hoping to "fill in the blanks" while offering readers some historical insights. He sought out the expertise of editor Ali Bothwell Mancini, who helped him to streamline 1,000 pages into the first three books in the Bilge Rat series, which is written for young adult and older readers.
The first book in the series, Remarkable Rascal, introduces William Eden, an orphaned boy in 1700s London who becomes immersed in the dangerous world of pirates. Books two and three, Black Tarantula and Demon Pirate, continue William's story while chronicling the exploits of a malicious pirate terrorizing the high seas.
Smith has a pretty good idea of why pirates have such enduring appeal, particularly for children. "Pirates were the ultimate historical rebels," Smith says. "They refused to follow the standards and norms of the time. In effect, they sought freedom at its most extreme." Fantasy and adventure stories (particularly those that integrate history) are invaluable assets for young readers, Smith says. "I like to think that books like mine are essential for perpetuating an interest in the literature that the Common Core has forced out of the classroom."
And Smith has no plans to stop writing his historical pirate adventures. He's currently completing the fourth book and has two more outlined. "In truth," Smith says, "I plan on scribbling these adventures for as long as I possibly can!"