State College children's book author lends insight into How I Became
By Jennifer Pencek
Martha Freeman of State College has published seventeen books for children and is a fan of numerous other children’s stories, including How I Became a Pirate. Her latest book, The Case of the Piggy Bank Thief, was released in August 2012. Freeman was kind enough to answer our questions about How I Became a Pirate, a book by Melinda Long that inspired the Omaha Theater Company musical coming to Eisenhower Auditorium February 24, and the value of literature and theatrical productions geared toward children.
What do you like about the How I Became a Pirate?
Pirates have been a popular, romantic, and appealing subject for young people since Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island, if not before that. Freedom, camaraderie, and maybe even misbehavior on the high seas appeals to the adventurous spirit of anyone, I think. In the story, the main character Jeremy Jacob is being ignored by his parents on the beach when he gets a much better offer to join the pirate crew.
The semi-autonomous child is a pretty typical opening for a tale (think Wendy and her siblings watched over by a dog and thus left vulnerable in Peter Pan). Kids like to see themselves as independent, and this story says being independent and daring are not such bad things as long as you realize what you’re losing — in Jeremy Jacob’s case being tucked in at night, for example.
It’s also empowering for kids — Jeremy Jacob’s soccer skills and brains save the day for the pirates, besides getting him safely home in the end. So, in short, what’s appealing is pirates (adventure) and a traditional, satisfying story arc with a child hero using child-like smarts and skills. Also, it’s very, very funny.
What makes a good story for children?
People are wired to love stories. They are an engaging learning tool, and they are great for groups (like families) to share and talk over. One of the things that makes this a good story is the satisfying plot — the hero is appealing and uses his skills to solve the problems of the pirates, as well as his own (getting home). Within the universe created by the author, the story makes sense, and at the end the reader feels satisfied — a sense of completion.
What value do you see in offering children literary and artistic avenues through literature and theatre? What do you think is the connection between literature and theatre?
Art — whether it’s music, painting, literature, or theatre — expands our understanding beyond ourselves and helps us make sense of the world. That is its value. It’s not surprising that books and stories often inspire theatrical or cinematic productions. In the case of a picture book, the art of the book also creates a ready-made template for the theatrical designer.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
David Shannon, the illustrator, is one of my favorites. His No, David! books are the best!
Learn more about Freeman.
How I Became a Pirate
Omaha Theater Company
2 p.m. Sunday, February 24
University Park Student $8
18 and Younger $15
McQuaide Blasko Endowment sponsors the presentation.
MAJIC 99 is the media sponsor.