Thursday, September 1, 2011

Review: The Black Banner

The Black Banner by Helen Hart

Publication Date: June 2011
Publisher: Silverwood Books
Genre: MIddle Grade, YA
Pages: Paperback, 240pp
ISBN-13: 9781906236465

(Received for an honest review from Silverwood Books)

Purchase: Barnes & Noble, Book Depository, IndieBound

Helen Hart on the WEB: website, facebook, twitter

Excerpt from The Black Banner (Middle of the page... short excerpt)


Set sail on the high seas of adventure with Becky Baxter and her band of pirates! A swashbuckling pirate novel for young teens. Penniless Becky Baxter crops her hair, dresses in breeches, and leaves the dangerous backstreets of Bristol for a life of adventure and fortune on the high seas. But she quickly discovers that there are far more dangerous enemies than her drunken Ma and evil Mr. Crudder...Pirates!


Author Helen Hart brings young readers a swashbuckling pirate tale in the vein of "Cutthroat Island" and "Pirates of the Caribbean," with her latest release, The Black Banner. Hart's vivid descriptions of everything from eighteenth century daily life to looting ships on the high seas will have readers on the edge of their seats. With detailed research and a spirit of adventure Hart brings to life a young girl, turned pirate that will capture the heart of young readers!

Becky Baxter leads a life of poverty in Bristol, practically living on the streets with a drunken mother and no prospects for a good future. Becky decides to take matters into her own hands when she cuts her hair and dresses like a boy named Billy in order to get a job on the merchant ship, the Bonny Marie. But life on the high seas isn't everything it's cracked up to be, when the Bonny Marie is attacked by pirates. Becky's life changes dramatically when she becomes a pirate and begins to lead the good life... but how long will it last?

Helen Hart has crafted a novel suitable for both, boys and girls from ages 9 - 13 and beyond. The Black Banner is a wonderful YA read that will appeal to both sexes and adults who love a good pirate tale. Set in 1719. this book is well researched and comes across as authentic and believable. Hart wasn't afraid to describe the squalid conditions of 18th century Bristol or the acts of the pirates as they looted and stole from the merchant ships. I liked the fact that she didn't sugarcoat the setting because the book was for younger readers. I think it's important that young readers understand the period they are reading about and I really appreciated that Hart allowed them that respect. 

One of the things that I really enjoyed about Hart's writing in this book, was her very detailed descriptions of the setting, the people, even the sea itself. It will be easy for readers to feel like they are being transported back in time into the very shoes of the characters. They will feel the salt spray on their faces and the sun on their backs. They will almost be able to taste, the mangoes and touch the fabric of the sails. I loved the fact that Hart added many details about the time period. The rich period detail made the book really come alive. 

As always when I review a YA or Middle grade title I enlist the help of two daughters ages 11 and 13 to give me their feedback on the book as well. After reading The Black Banner both girls reported that they really liked the character of Becky Baxter. She was both intelligent and resourceful and didn't leave her own future to someone else. My oldest is a huge fan of the "Pirates of the Caribbean" movies and books and said that Becky reminded her of a young Jack Sparrow with the world ahead of her. They were a little taken aback by the format of the novel, as it is comprised of Becky's journal entries. My youngest daughter would have preferred a more direct method, but she still really enjoyed the book. Overall both girls were impressed and would definitely read more from Helen Hart, as would I. 

I recommend this book to young readers, Middle Grade and YA, as well as to adults who are still young at heart and full of adventure themselves. It's a fast paced book, that can be read by a young reader in a few afternoons after school or over the weekend. I think it captures the pirate attitude and spirit and provides lots of adventure and action that will appeal to both boys and girls. 

The Black Banner is available NOW from your favorite bookseller!

I'm giving this book 4 out of 5 apples from my book bag!

Helen has been a published author since 1999. Represented by London literary agency Pollinger Ltd, she has written a number of novels under pseudonyms for Scholastic, Oxford University Press, HarperCollins, Virgin Books and a range of overseas publishers. Her work has been translated into many languages including Swedish, Danish, Japanese and Greek. One of her Young Adult novels, written as Maya Snow, was shortlisted for the Solihull Children's Book Award 2010.

In 2007 Helen became the founding director of Bristol-based self-publishing company SilverWood Books. She is the co-founder of the successful 'Get Published Masterclass' in Bristol and was a judge for the Bristol Short Story Prize in 2010 and 2011.

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