Pirate Queen: A Story of Zheng Yi Sao

Groundwood. Mar. 2020. 36p. Tr $17.95. ISBN 9781773061245.
Gr 1-5–Fortune decided that she should take to the seas. But Zheng Yi Sao used her own intelligence, diplomacy, and strategy to become a leader of unprecedented power. Kidnapped by pirates as a young woman, Zheng Yi Sao negotiates equity in her marriage to the pirate captain. Upon her husband’s death, the Pirate Queen took over his empire, effectively running the government and economy of the South China Sea region, amassing great wealth and power. At the same time, she worked to protect the wives of pirates. Years later, Fortune smiled upon as the Pirate Queen as she sailed away from Canton, free and rich. The first person narrative is at once deliberate and lyrical, interwoven with imagery that recurs at significant moments in Zheng Yi Sao’s life. The precise illustrations, created with pencil on bristol board and colored digitally, use visual motifs that support the recurring themes and images, most notably the glowing Jade Rabbit Moon. Soft colors and strong compositions, along with Wong’s attention to detail, bring far away scenes to life. Unfortunately, there’s less vitality and energy in the characters. This fictional account is based on what little is known of the real Pirate Queen, who’s name is still unknown (Zheng Yi Sao simply means “Wife of Zheng Yi”). The author’s note delineates between fact and fiction. Additional back matter includes sources, further reading, and notes about alternate spellings for the names used in the book.
VERDICT Well-researched, this fictionalized account of a powerful woman from history will captivate readers and inspire further exploration.

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