This fantasy by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson is published by Hyperion Paperbacks for Children, Disney Editions and is written for kids ages 10 and up. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.
When the headmaster of St. Norbert's Home for Wayward Boys puts Peter and his mates on board a ship called the Never Land, the orphans expect bad food, seasickness and hard labor. They never anticipate meeting Molly, a young Starcatcher, or battling pirates in an effort to protect the magical "starstuff" from the wrong people. A vicious, foul-smelling pirate called Black Stache, his crew of savages and a greedy ship's captain all vie for a trunk filled with the powerful starstuff. Meanwhile, Peter helps Molly and her father retrieve the trunk, with the aid of porpoise Starcatchers, mermaids and a flying crocodile named Mr. Grin. This Peter Pan prequel explains how Peter's contact with too much starstuff changes his life forever.
When Molly's father says he prays that no ship can catch them, the captain says, "Praying will no doubt help . . . but so will good seamanship." After Alf (a sailor) saves Peter and his friends, they cheer in gratitude "to Alf and to the Almighty, in that order."
Most of the book's grown-ups — including Captains Slank and Stache, Molly's governess (Mrs. Bumbrake) and the headmaster of St. Norbert's — disdain children and treat them with disrespect and cruelty. Slank and Stache, both selfish treasure-hunters, are equally heartless to their crewmen, whom they consider expendable. Molly's father aims to teach his daughter the family trade of Starcatching, but he also attempts to protect her by putting her on a ship he considers safer than his own. As leader of the group of boys, Peter looks out for his mates and refuses to abandon them when they've been captured. There's mention of pirates drinking rum.
Starstuff — the material from some shooting stars — gives magical (often transforming) power to the people or animals who touch it. The power generally corrupts a person's character: Molly mentions the gods of Greek mythology and Attila the Hun as examples. Thus a secret group of Starcatchers, of which Molly and her father are part, must stop evil people known as The Others from misusing the starstuff. Molly indicates that the war between Starcatchers and The Others is not only being fought on earth. Looking to the heavens, she says there are other "forces out there." After the starstuff turns fish into mermaids, the head mermaid repeatedly refers to it as the "Creator," and she is able to speak telepathically to Peter. Using starstuff, Molly's father turns a bird into a fairy that will take care of Peter.
D---n" is used twice. Many action-packed battles take place, often involving bloodshed.
Peter overhears giggling, squealing and thumping noises made by Mr. Slank and Mrs. Bumbrake that suggest they may be doing something inappropriate. The sails of Stache's ship, known as The Ladies, are shaped like a giant "brassiere" (the book's sketch of the sails resembles a corset). After Peter saves the head mermaid, she kisses him.
The New York Times Best Seller List, 2004; Chicago Public Library Best of the Best, 2004; Publishers Weekly Children's Best Seller, October 2004 and more.
If your children have read this book or someone has read it to them, consider these discussion topics:
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