How to Be a Pirate

Written by Isaac Fitzgerald, Illustrated by Brigette Barrager

Bloomsbury, 2020
Medium: Pencil, Radiant Watercolor Ink, Colored Pencil, Photoshop

This is one of my favorite books of all time, and not just from my own body of work. I would love this book even if I hadn’t illustrated it (and I would have been jealous of whoever DID)! And, I would love it even if it hadn’t been a National Bestseller, which it was. 

A few things caught my imagination when this book manuscript landed in my inbox: I loved the relationship between the little girl, Cece, and her grandfather. I loved the dog, who is never mentioned in the text but who experiences the adventure alongside Cece and Grandpa nonetheless. I loved how Isaac had given notes about the way that color could be used to reflect Cece’s emotional state. And yes, I do have tattoos, so that aspect spoke to me as well. 

I knew immediately that Cece needed to be reminiscent of Pippi Longstocking, with braids and freckles, and that Grandpa needed to be my dad. He needed to have a larger-than-life presence through her eyes, because that is how my dad looked to me when I was small like Cece. He had to have the magical twinkle in his eyes that tells you he knows things. Magical things. The actual magic that he bestows on Cece is simple: he loves her, and he believes in her. He knows she’s capable of being Brave, Quick, Independent and Fun. Through his faith in her, her world goes from totally washed out to bright and sparkling again. She can conquer any problem! She can be a pirate!

This book came out in March of 2020. I was in New York, having just participated in a book event for How to Be a Pirate in Brooklyn at Books Are Magic. Isaac and I read Pirate, and the wonderful John Scieszka, a friend of Isaac’s, attended and read one of his books too. During lunch with my agent and editor, we heard that the first case of Covid 19 in the US had just been reported…in New York City. The plane ride home was very spooky, with people already wearing masks (uncommon at that moment) and barely anyone at the airport. 

Because of the pandemic I really haven’t had the chance to read How to Be a Pirate out loud to an audience since then. However, Levar Burton did read it live online in April of 2020, during lockdown. (Remember lockdown? Ugh.) It was a terrific honor to hear this book read by the voice of Reading Rainbow.