Inside: Enjoy some great picture books about pirates for your next pirate unit, Talk like a pirate day, pirate month, or simply any day your and your kids feel the call to adventure.
Stories about pirates fascinate kids for a good reason. And the primary reason is not – as one of my sons stressed – because pirates are naughty people who get away with naughty behavior.
The attraction is in the adventurous quests, the lure of buried treasure, their daring dos in the face of danger, and of course, those ancient maps of mysterious islands where X marks the spot.
It also doesn’t hurt those pirates “usually” know how to do all sorts of things, including kicking butts and standing up for themselves. In my son’s words, “who doesn’t want to be a pirate?!”
Many of the pirate books on our list stimulate the mind and offer gentle interpretations of important life lessons.
Plus, many have gorgeous illustrations that are simply pieces of art and offer a great starting point for discussion.
Related: the best picture book discussion questions
Related: printable All About Pirates activity book
Without further ado, here they arrrrrrre 🙂
Picture Books About Pirates
Swap! Steve Light
This is one of my favorites because I’m a huge fan of the “making the best out of every situation” mentality. Plus, I adore Steve Light’s style of expressive pen-and-ink illustrations, which provide so much raw material to talk about!
A sea captain has fallen on hard times. His ship has seen better days, and even his clothes are falling apart. Pop! goes his shirt button. This button gives his friend an idea of how they can improve their situation. They don’t know where this idea will take them, and there’s no guarantee of success ahead. But with heads held high and a can-do attitude, they’re bravely marching into the unknown, and we can’t help but cheer them on.
Lesson: a positive mindset can save the day.
Pirate Nell’s Tale to Tell, Helen Doherty
This book is one of my favorite pirate stories to read aloud to my kids. And it’s not just that the rhyming words roll off the tongue so deliciously. And it’s not just because the lead character – Nell – is a pirate after my own heart: an energetic, can-do life force who always knows the right page in her book to save the day – whether that means getting away from a shark, stirring the ship away from the treacherous rocks, or saving a drowning dog. And it’s not just because the pirate’s loot hiding under the X that marks the spot was books! Books!!!
And…. it’s not just because all the warm and happy illustrations have lots of enthralling details to study and discuss, like the cross-section of the pirate ship and, of course, the floating library.
It’s everything combined! As you probably guessed, this book has a lot to recommend itself.
Lesson: be who you were meant to be no matter what obstacles get in the way.
Patricia Malicia Book-Loving Buccaneer, Carrie Clickard
Patricia Malicia has good reasons to hate pirate life: endless seafood, slug-infested hammocks, and the pervasive dampness infested her books! It also doesn’t help that pirating skills don’t come naturally to her, and she is not a big fan of being ruthless. But when she finds the courage to leave her pirate family behind, she finds a new home on dry land and a new start in life as the owner of a bookstore!
The artwork does an excellent job of capturing the main character’s spirit. And I find the rhymes very easy on the ear and pleasant to read aloud. “You can’t blame her family. They raised her up right. They gave her a name filled with menace and fright.”
Lesson: you can’t change your past, but you can change the future and choose your own adventure.
Want this FREE Pirate-themed activity book?
Half-Pint Pete the Pirate, Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen
This rhyming story about pirates looking for treasure is a heart-warmer. Pete and Belle discover that they each have half a treasure map. And so they decide to team up (although one secretly plans to betray the other). Can they both get what they want, or will the story end with an “I-win-you- loose” scenario?
Your kids have already heard that working together is a useful skill, but we all know it can be challenging. I like that this book promotes the value of compromise, patience, and teamwork and demonstrates that even greedy pirates can find a way to do it.
Lesson: relationships make life worth living
No Pirates Allowed! Said Library Lou, Rhonda Gowler Greene
Always expect the unexpected when a pirate shows up at the library! Pirate Pete and his squawking parrot Igor are at the heart of this pirate story. Stinky and loud, they show up at the Seabreezy Library one day and announce, “X marks this spot! We’ll dig up the loot an’ steal all that ye’ve got!”
Where should they dig? How should they start? But the wise librarian, Lou, knows just what to do; she’s been a librarian long enough to have quite a few tricks up her sleeve.
The Illustrations are cute too. Best-selling artist Brian Ajhar artfully blends the right amount of detail with exciting color choices.
Lesson: the real treasure is knowledge.
Pirate Boy, Eve Bunting
Danny is considering becoming a pirate and sailing away into the horizon on a pirate ship, but he worries about whether he could get back home just in case it turns out the pirate life is not for him. He doesn’t have to worry, though. His loving mother will brave the high seas any day, facing scary pirates and sea monsters to make sure her little boy gets home okay!
If this imaginary tale of what ifs reminds you of Margaret Wise Brown’s Runaway Bunny, you’re not the only one. However, we will never get tired of reading books about maternal love! Right?! The emotional tone of love and beautiful illustrations make it a great read all around.
Lesson: follow your heart, but let your loved ones be there to cheer on your adventure
The Skeleton Pirate, David Lucas
Packed with humor and edge-of-the-seat adventure, this story will delight your kids with treasure, a sea battle, a sea monster, and a giant whale. Yep, it has it all!
Plus, it’s written in a style that little kids find absolutely hilarious:
“Curses!” said the Skeleton Pirate through gritted teeth. “I will never be beaten!”
“Hahaha!” they laughed and threw him overboard.”
Don’t worry about the Skeleton Pirate; he will always be okay because he “can’t be beaten.” The author’s illustrations are quite funny, and, like the Skeleton pirate, we could all use a little more faith in our ability to bounce back after setbacks.
Lesson: You’re going to fall, but you’ll pick yourself back up and keep going.
Everything I Know About Pirates, Tom Lightenheld
“Pirates will often carry their knives in their mouths, although the practice is frowned upon by the American Dental Association.”
When a pirate doesn’t know which way to go and “is refusing to even stop to ask directions,” you know it’s usually a Dad pirate.
And if you resent the absence of a pirate diving team at the Olympics, just know that it’s “due to the high cost of liability insurance” (pirates need to practice in shark-infested waters and all).
I don’t know about your preschooler, but both my middle-schooler and teenager had a total blast with this book. They still frequently pick it off the living room bookshelf, reading random parts aloud and laughing their butts off.
The author’s distinctive illustrations are witty, delightfully detailed, often hilarious, and full of a playful spirit that appeals to kids.
Lesson: (according to my kids) you can choose to be creative doing anything, even writing history books.
Captain Monty Takes the Plunge, Jennifer Mook-Sang
Captain Monty is brave and bold, but he has a guilty secret: he doesn’t know how to swim. While sailing the seas in his pirate ship, he falls in love with a mermaid, which naturally presents a bit of a problem. One day he’s forced to jump into the sea to save her life. With an ironic twist, the mermaid ends up dragging him out of murky deaths and eventually teaches him how to swim.
This is a fun and silly book about overcoming limiting beliefs. It’s great to expose kids to characters who step out of their comfort zone and grow from their experiences. The bright orange Monty, with his red pirate hat and blue pants, along with all the other energetic watercolor illustrations, clearly demonstrate that love is stronger than fear.
Lesson: feel the fear but do it anyway.
Pirate Stew, Neil Gaiman
As Mum and Dad get ready to go out for the night, the kids groan and beg them not to go. Little do they know that their parents arranged a pirate for a babysitter! What could possibly go wrong?
Your kids will enjoy the light-hearted rhymes about an ordinary day that turns into a wild adventure, complete with raiding a donut shop and cooking up a pirate stew (that may or may not turn you into a pirate).
The bright illustrations by multi-award-winning British illustrator Chris Riddell portray pirates as fierce-looking but not really scary. If you’re a huge fan of Neil Gaiman’s work, you might enjoy a YouTube video of the author reading the story.
Lesson: if you can’t change it, go with the flow (even when you have something different in mind)
Pirasaurs! Josh Funk
Pirates + Dinosaurs! Need I say more?! As Triceracook prepares a Jurassic feast and Velocimate navigates the ship, the crew of pirates arrives at the mysterious treasure island. Will they find the spot marked with X on the map? Well, maybe not. an ambush by another dino crew might prove defeating.
The digital artwork is engaging. You can also download Captain Rex and other pirasaurs coloring pages on the author’s website.
Lesson: sometimes you might feel small, but you are always powerful (plus it doesn’t hurt to know a few peaceful conflict resolution tricks)
Pirate Adventure, Mike Berenstain
I had to include this Berenstain Bears book! We love this series so much that we read our copies to literal tatters. And we do have most of them. Seriously!
During their beach vacation, The Berenstain family stumbles upon an old, wrecked fishing boat. The cubs use it to play pirates and end up having a delightful pirate-inspired adventure of their own making, demonstrating to kids everywhere that they don’t need fancy toys to have a blast.
Did you know that Berenstain Bears books have sold over 240 million copies? Wonderful to read aloud and much loved by kids of all ages, these books combine life, wisdom, and friendly-looking bears to remarkable effect. The books offer many thought-provoking lessons, and all my kids have a special place in their hearts for this bear family.
Lesson: Imagination can take you places.
Cap’N Rex and His Clever Crew, Henry Herz
These dinosaur pirates are sailing the Seven Seas when a Megalodon takes a bite out of their ship! And that’s just the beginning. The pirate crew keeps running into one challenge after another – a shark, fog, and an erupting volcano. However, whenever a crew member hangs his head and says, “I can’t do it,” Captain Rex says, “Can’t ye?” and a creative solution to the problem is discovered.
I love the problem-solving theme of the story. And quirky illustrations make it a fun read-aloud.
Lesson: With determination, we can overcome the “I can’t” mindset, no matter the circumstances.
The Pirate Princess, Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen
And finally, one of our absolute favorites! Funny and surprisingly inspiring, this rhyming picture book has the feel of an old-fashioned fairy tale but packs a modern twist. Princess Bea doesn’t want Prince Charming – she wants a high-sea adventure! And adventure she gets. But it might take more courage and hard work than she bargained for…
We love everything about this book, including the gorgeous illustrations by the late American painter Jill McElmurry. In fact, we love this book so much that we even created a printable activity book to go along with it.
Lesson: sometimes, the road to good runs through the bad. Also, you learn best by taking action and doing.