A narrator who despises children. The daughter of Captain Hook himself, who fails miserably at finishing school and, instead, sets out to avenge her father’s death. A ticking crocodile, numerous swords, frequent swashbuckling and lots of bravery. They all add up to the debut middle-grade novel from Heidi Schulz, Hook’s Revenge, which includes cover art and interior illustrations from John Hendrix.
Bravery comes in many forms here. After all, it takes one kind of courage to tolerate the headmistress of Miss Eliza Crumb-Biddlecomb’s Finishing School for Young Ladies, especially if you hate pink, yet another to face down the occasionally vexing boy who refuses to grow up. In this rousing adventure, Schulz takes it on with style, presenting a memorable protagonist, Hook’s daughter Joceyln, whose story is told by an irascible pirate narrator, who if you please, would like child readers to back off a bit and be sure not to breathe on him.
I talked via email with Schulz to ask her about this entertaining novel and whether or not we’ll see a sequel in the near future.
At one point, Jocelyn asks someone why the lost boys forget, and the response is that it’s part of the magic of the Neverland and that forgetting “keeps you from growing up.” Then we read: “It would be lovely to forget all the failures and disappointments she had encountered over the past few days, but where would that get her? She’d be stuck in one place, forever. Jocelyn did not want to always remain the same. Where was the adventure in that?” As I read that, I thought of people I know who don’t care for the Peter Pan story, and I wondered if that’s one objection to it that they have. Is that also part and parcel of your response to the themes of the Peter Pan story, or is that just your character talking?
It’s a bit of both, I think. I love Peter Pan and before I started writing this manuscript, I was unbothered by his perpetual boyhood. However, in some ways, writing from Jocelyn’s perspective changed my mind. I began to view Peter Pan through the lens of her character, and she had an entirely different point of view when it came to growing up.
This made me think more deeply about what it would be like to always remain the same. I realized how terrible that would be. Some of the most difficult and frustrating times in my life have been periods where, for whatever reason, I felt stagnant and unable to grow. I can’t think of anything worse than staying the same forever and ever.
Jocelyn’s least favorite story, the narrator notes, is “Cinderella.” In this book, Jocelyn fights and defends her honor and takes care of herself quite nicely. No Prince Charmings needed. Did you write this book in response to traditional tales that include such subservient women characters?
My first intention with this book was simply to tell a good story. It began to take shape in the middle of a time when my daughter was very interested in both princesses and Peter Pan. I sewed her a fancy princess dress that she wore nearly every day between the ages of four and six, complete with a plastic tiara on her head—and a plastic sword in her fist, ready to fight pirates on a moment’s notice. That juxtaposition was certainly an inspiration to me as I wrote.
As I drafted, I began to notice a few details my story shared with “Cinderella,” particularly the importance of a clock, either striking midnight or ticking away inside a crocodile, and a lost slipper leading to large consequences. I decided to play up those themes in order to highlight the differences in Jocelyn’s character from those of the standard, more passive, fairy tale princess.
That passivity is one of the problems I have with some traditional depictions of women, princesses in particular. The princess must wait for a prince to rescue her from the tower or the enchanted sleep, poverty, or unhappiness. Jocelyn certainly needs things from Roger, her main male counterpart—most particularly, friendship and understanding—but she does not need rescuing, from him or anyone else.
A reader recently wrote me to say that after the family read Hook’s Revenge, her daughters had stopped playing princess and started playing pirate. I was pleased, not just because my story had provided fuel for their imaginative play, but also because it offered them another option.
Next week, if those girls decide to take up their princess dresses again, I hope they also feel free to hold on to their swords. Girls don’t have to be just one thing, and they certainly don’t have to wait to be rescued. I’d love both girls and boys to know that.
Was the narrator always a part of the narrative, or was he added at a later date? And how fun was that to write?
Having an active narrator was a part of this story from the very beginning. J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan also has a narrator that addresses the reader, so this style felt very natural for what I was trying to accomplish. However, in early drafts, the narrator did not have quite as strong a personality.
His intense dislike for children came in revision, and once that fell into place, his voice became much clearer and more fun. I loved writing the way he casually insults the reader, and readers—kid readers, in particular—seem to really enjoy those parts too.
Will there be a sequel? I’m curious to know who the narrator is. Will we find out?
There will be! Hook’s Revenge: The Pirate Code is scheduled for a September 2015 release. It went to the copy editor just last week, and I’m quite proud of the way it has turned out. The Pirate Code does not explicitly say who the narrator is, but it does contain strong hints. Astute readers should be able to figure him out.
HOOK'S REVENGE. Copyright © 2014 by Heidi Schulz. Illustrations © 2014 by John Hendrix. Published by Disney-Hyperion, New York. Illustration used by permission of John Hendrix.
Julie Danielson (Jules) conducts interviews and features of authors and illustrators at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, a children's literature blog primarily focused on illustration and picture books.