April 21, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Buried Treasure: Real and Imagined Adventure Titles | Focus On

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“There he lay, a vast red-gold dragon, fast asleep; a thrumming came from his jaws and nostrils, and wisps of smoke, but his fires were low in slumber. Beneath him, under all his limbs and his huge coiled tail, and about him on all sides stretching away across the unseen floors, lay countless piles of precious things, gold wrought and unwrought, gems and jewels, and silver red-stained in the ruddy light.”

[The Hobbit, Chapter 12]

From this, Bilbo’s first glimpse of Smaug (and the episode in Beowulf that is its parent) to Robert Louis Stevenson’s archetypal Treasure Island and its teeming literary descendants, any tale—be it sonorous or silly, fiction or history—with lost, buried, or otherwise hidden treasure glittering at its heart exerts a special lure on readers. Likewise, any booktalk that can (without cheating!) include references to, say, an old map with an “X,” buried gold, a deadly guardian, a treasure hunt with clues to decode, or precious hoards lost in time, storms, or mishaps is bound to spark a response from listeners of all ages—especially when pirates are involved, as they are in many of these selections. Though the “treasures” range from gems, coins, and ancient artifacts to stolen art, underwear, and less tangible but more precious commodities such as literacy, friendship, and dreams come true, all are well worth the seeking.


For Sea Pups

DORMAN, Brandon. Pirates of the Sea! illus. by author. Greenwillow. 2011. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780062040688.
PreS-Gr 2–Sea pups will happily clamber aboard the Dragonfish of Doom with Cap’n Bones and his thoroughly scurvy crew for an uncommonly rousing pirate voyage. The boldly hued digital pictures are a feast for the eyes, aye, as is the treasure waiting to be claimed: “There be goblets,/There be diamonds,/There be pirate underwear!” Avast!

DUDDLE, Jonny. The Pirate Cruncher. illus. by author. Candlewick. 2010. Tr $15.99. ISBN 9780763648763.
Gr 1-3–No fabulous treasure lies unguarded—as Captain Purplebeard and his knavish crew discover to their cost in this swashbuckling sea venture. Children who prefer their pirate adventures well stocked with properly armed, bejeweled, tattooed, and snaggle-toothed swabbies will “Yo Ho Ho” with a will, particularly when they reach the spectacular climactic foldout.

FLORIAN, Douglas. Shiver Me Timbers: Pirate Poems & Paintings. illus. by Robert Neubecker. S. & S./Beach Lane. 2012. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781442413214; ebk. $11.76. ISBN 9781442457126.
Gr 2-5–“Buried” treasure comes to light with every page turn in this piratical pairing. As scurvy sea dogs strike stylish poses in Neubecker’s cartoon illustrations, Florian’s rollicking verses offer troves of “Pirate Patter,” lore, and even history—along with typically outstanding wordplay: “At night we navigate by starrr!/We’re hard as nails with many a scarrr!”

GIBBONS, Gail. Sunken Treasure. illus. by author. HarperCollins. 1990 (orig. 1988). pap. $6.99. ISBN 9780064460972.
Gr 1-3–Though focusing largely on the search for the Spanish treasure ship Nuestra Señora de Atocha, Gibbons goes on to describe four other modern discoveries, including the Titanic. Young would-be treasure hunters get initial looks at the equipment and techniques of undersea salvage, the history of diving, and even how sunken ships are raised and restored.

GREENE, Rhonda Gowler. No Pirates Allowed! Said Library Lou. illus. by Brian Ajhar. Sleeping Bear. 2013. Tr $15.95. ISBN 9781585367962.
K-Gr 2–Map in hand, Big Pirate Pete bursts into Seabreezy Library in search of “treasure”—and that’s just what he finds. First, though, he has a few library rules to learn…and who better to teach him than intrepid Library Lou the librarian! A “seabreezy” celebration of the unsurpassed wealth found in books and reading, with appropriately high-energy illustrations.

HARRIS, Peter. The Night Pirates: A Pop-Up Adventure. illus. by Deborah Allwright. paper engineering by Corina Fletcher. Egmont. 2013. Tr $19.99. ISBN 9781405256780.
K-Gr 2 –A bemused lad joins “rough, tough little girl pirates” out to steal treasure from blustering Captain Patch and his knavish but inattentive crew. Pop-up effects add even more life and energy to the swashbuckling illustrations crafted by Allwright for this effervescent tale originally published as a picture book in 2005.

LONG, Melinda. Pirates Don’t Change Diapers. illus. by David Shannon. Houghton Harcourt. 2007. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780152053536.
K-Gr 2 –In this rollicking sequel to How I Became a Pirate (Harcourt, 2003), Captain Braid Beard and his scurvy crew show up at Jeremy Jacob’s door to fetch their buried treasure. Unfortunately, they wake up baby Bonney Anne—leading to hilarious lessons in child care. Children will chortle at the escalating chaos in Shannon’s rib-tickling illustrations.

SHULEVITZ, Uri . The Treasure. illus. by author. Farrar/Sunburst Bks. 1986. pap. $7.99. ISBN 9780374479558.
Gr 1-3 –In this retelling of an old wisdom tale, a dream of buried treasure prompts Isaac to undertake a weary journey. In the end he does indeed uncover a treasure—in an unexpected and surprising place. Shulevitz’s rich, atmospheric images depict Eastern European figures and landscapes in luminous tones.

WHEELER, Lisa. Seadogs: An Epic Ocean Operetta . illus. by Mark Siegel. S. & S./Atheneum. 2006. pap. $7.99. ISBN 9781416941033.
Gr 2-3–Presented with theatrical flair in graphic format, this rousing adventure follows Captain Jacques Fifi, “the Terrier of the Sea,” and his “Mongrel Horde” of canine pirates as they pursue three intrepid sea dogs on the hunt for buried treasure. The rollicking rhymes beg to be read or sung aloud.

WICK, Walter. Can You See What I See? Treasure Ship. illus. by author. (Can You See What I See?). Scholastic/Cartwheel. 2010. Tr $13.99. ISBN 9780439026437.
Gr 1-3–Close-up views of golden coins and dazzling gems open this glittering gallery of pirate plunder—all of which, with helpful tallies on the side, is piled up with seeming carelessness as feasts for the eyes of young treasure hunters.

For Expert Swabbies

DELABARRE, Eric. Saltwater Taffy. illus. by R. C. Nason. Seven Publishing, 2010. Tr $15.95. ISBN 9780972357807; ebk. $9.99. ISBN 9780972357814.
Gr 4-6–Five young friends piece together a treasure map left by renowned pirate Jean Lafitte, and of course they give it to grown-ups and go off to play…AS IF! Along with figuring out clues and learning to work together, the five outwit nasty competitors and survive one narrow squeak after another on their thrill-a-minute hunt.

DELANEY, Rachelle. Ship of Lost Souls. illus. by Gerald Guerlais. (Ship of Lost Souls). Grosset & Dunlap. 2012. ebk. $7.99. ISBN 9781101577899.
Gr 3-5–Hardly has young Jem come into possession of a much-sought-after treasure map than he’s kidnapped by a crew of widely feared “Lost Souls”—a band of rough-cut pirate children led (more or less) by fiery Captain Scarlet McCray. A merry chase ensues, with a trove of rubies and a much greater “treasure” waiting at the end.

FARBER, E. S. Seagulls Don’t Eat Pickles. illus. by Jason Beene. (Fish Finelli: Bk. 1). Chronicle. 2013. Tr $15.99. ISBN 9781452108209; pap. $6.99. ISBN 9781452128535; ebk. $5.99. ISBN 9781452126975.
Gr 3-5–Can fifth-grader Fish and his two buddies find the long-lost treasure of Captain Kidd? All they have to do is steal a certain map, beat a grown-up rival to the spot—and stumble their way into one comical “pickle” after another. Cartoon drawings add visual humor, while sidebars provide background on topics ranging from Kidd’s nautical career to walkie-talkies.

FIENBERG, Anna. Horrendo’s Curse: The Graphic Novel. adapted by Alison Kooistra. illus. by Rémy Simard. Annick. 2013. Tr $24.95. ISBN 9781554515493; pap. $14.99. ISBN 9781554515486.
Gr 3-5–Horrendo, a lad bearing a curse that keeps him from saying an unkind word, helps a band of children escape the pirates who have kidnapped them. This graphic version of a novel published in 2002 preserves the original’s droll twists and dramatic turns, thanks to the loads of new illustrations, while cutting the story’s length and quickening its pace.

HAWASS, Zahi. Tutankhamun: The Mystery of the Boy King. National Geographic. 2005. Tr $17.95. ISBN 9780792283546.
Gr 4-6 –This authoritative account of the doomed young pharaoh’s short reign and the culture in which he lived is generously illustrated with outstanding photographs—mostly of glittering artifacts recovered from his long-lost tomb. Audio version available from Recorded Books.

HERGÉ. The Secret of the Unicorn. illus. by author. (Adventures of Tintin: Younger Readers Edition). Little, Brown. 2011. pap. $9. ISBN 9780316133869.
Gr 4-6 –In one of Tintin’s more action-packed adventures, a scroll concealed in a model ship points to a long-hidden treasure. This new edition is complete, but it’s also issued with freshened-up illustrations—plus a cast list and an introduction to the author. Readers will definitely want to start the sequel, Red Rackham’s Treasure, immediately, so be sure to have it on hand.

JACQUES, Brian. Doomwyte. (Redwall). Philomel. 2008. Tr $23.99. ISBN 9780399245442.
Gr 4-6 –The treasure? Stolen rubies and emeralds hidden long ago by Gonff, Prince of Mousethieves. The problem? Not only is intrepid young Redwaller Bisky leading a search—so is malign Korvus Skurr and his deadly ravens. A typically exciting Redwall romp, replete with narrow escapes, feats of derring-do, and, of course, food and singing aplenty. Audio version available from Recorded Books.

KORMAN, Gordon. The Discovery. (Dive). Scholastic. 2003. pap. $5.99. ISBN 9780439507226.
Gr 4-6–Summer internships in the Caribbean take a turn toward the deadly for four young divers when they fall afoul of ruthless treasure hunters and big sharks. Korman weaves together episodes set in the modern world and aboard a 17th-century ship loaded with gold to open his scary, suspenseful “Dive” trilogy. The other volumes are The Deep and The Danger (both 2003, Scholastic).

PATTERSON, James, et al. Treasure Hunters. illus. by Juliana Neufeld. (Treasure Hunters). Little, Brown. 2013. Tr $14.99. ISBN 9780316207560.
Gr 3-5–Opening a thrill-a-minute new series, four children raised and homeschooled on shipboard continue the family business while searching for their treasure-hunting parents. This nautical adventure comes well stocked with glittering troves, modern-day pirates, and other dangers. Black-and-white vignettes, portraits, and cutaway diagrams add background details as well as washes of visual comedy and drama. Audio version available from Hachette Audio.

PIROTTA, Saviour. The Buccaneering Book of Pirates. illus. by Mark Robertson. Sterling. 2013. Tr $19.95. ISBN 9781454904144.
Gr 3-5–Accompanied by a booklet of retold episodes from Treasure Island and other old yarns, a grimacing pirate unfolds to nearly four feet in height. Along with a cutlass and other weaponry, he features a treasure map and like items secreted in pockets and behind flaps in his piratical garb. An excellent candidate for “hanging”—on a wall, if not a gibbet.

TOLKIEN, J. R. R. The Hobbit: Or, There and Back Again. illus. by Peter Sís. Houghton Harcourt. 2001. pap. $10.99. ISBN 9780618150823.
Gr 5-7–When a band of dwarfs come knocking at his door looking to hire a thief, little does Bilbo know just what he’s signing on to do. The recent film adaptation is only marginally faithful to the book, but it does offer enticing hints of the original’s breathtaking scope and epic storytelling.

Digital picks

Gold Rush! Oakland Museum of California. (Accessed 6/25/14).
Gr 4 Up –Presented by the Oakland Museum of California, this multimedia introduction to the Gold Rush offers period images, panoramas, virtual tours, and passages from contemporary accounts.

Lost Treasure Online: State Treasure Hunting Stories. Lost Treasure Magazine. (Accessed 6/25/14).
Gr 4 Up –Treasure hunters need not travel to distant or exotic locales….Here are tales of riches lost or hidden here in the United States—arranged state by state.

Pirats!  National Geographic. (Accessed 6/25/14).
Gr 3-6 –This portal introduces young swabbies to a host of historical buccaneers, and also offers a treasure chest full of interactive high seas adventures.

For Old Sea Dogs

BEIL, Michael D. Red Blazer Girls: The Secret Cellar. (The Red Blazer Girls). Knopf. 2012. lib. ed. $20.99. ISBN 9780375967412; Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780375867415; ebk. $7.99. ISBN 9780375897900.
Gr 5-8 –A message hidden in a fountain pen sends the Red Blazer Girls—veteran middle-grade sleuths attending St. Veronica’s School on New York City’s Upper East Side—on a caper that is typically rich in clues, twists, revelations, and entertaining side business. And, the hidden “treasure” turns out to be nothing so trite as gold or art.

COMPOINT, Stéphane. Buried Treasures: Uncovering Secrets of the Past . Abrams. 2011. Tr $19.95. ISBN 9780810997813.
Gr 5-7–Outstanding photographs lead young treasure hunters on a worldwide quest for archaeological and paleontological troves—from the Gobi and Sahara deserts to remote Pacific islands and ancient cities buried beneath waves or lava. Along with views of archaeologists at work, Compoint also supplies illuminating descriptive captions describing each treasure’s nature and discovery.

DESPEYROUX, Denise. Dark Graphic Tales by Edgar Allan Poe. illus. by Miquel Serratosa. (Dark Graphic Novels). Enslow. 2012. lib. ed. $30.60. ISBN 9780766040861; pap. $9.95. ISBN 9781464401039.
Gr 6-8–A darkly atmospheric graphic adaptation introduces Poe’s deliciously creepy “The Gold-Bug,” in which a crazed treasure hunter uncovers Captain Kidd’s buried trove thanks to a weird insect, an encrypted message, and an old skull. Fans of horror fiction will also enjoy “The Fall of the House of Usher” and “The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether.”

GOLDING, Julia. The Diamond of Drury Lane. (A Cat Royal Adventure). Roaring Brook. 2008. pap. $10.99. ISBN 9780312561239l; ebk. $7.84. ISBN 9781429941075.
Gr 6-8–In this uncommonly vivid melodrama, Catherine, a foundling, overhears talk of a “diamond” hidden in the theater that has always been her home—and resolves to find and protect it against all threats. Get set for surprises, as well as a memorable trip through 18th-century London’s stews and theatrical settings. First of a series.

GRABENSTEIN, Chris. The Smoky Corridor. (A Haunted Mystery). Random. 2010. pap. $6.99. ISBN 9780375865107; ebk. $6.99. ISBN 9780375896002.
Gr 5-8 –As if there weren’t enough chills and thrills for a lifetime in his earlier encounters with the supernatural (The Crossroads, 2008 and The Hanging Hill, 2009), even more await Zach Jennings as he enters sixth grade in a creepy old mansion well stocked with ghosts and zombies—plus, somewhere on the property, a hidden trove of Confederate gold. Definitely recommended for under-the-sheets reading, bwa ha ha!

HARRISON, David L. Pirates. illus. by Dan Burr. Boyds Mills/Wordsong. 2008. Tr $17.95. ISBN 9781590784556.
Gr 5-7–Burr’s photorealistic paintings of ragged, scruffy sea dogs looking tough, bored, or scared in turn are matched to equally gritty ruminations: “Tomorrow would be/like yesterday—/rotting teeth, rat bites,/odd jobs loading ships,/stealing a coin now and then.” Harrison follows his grim, dark poetry with more facts about real pirates and their common fates.

HINDS, Gareth, adapt. Beowulf. illus by Gareth Hinds. Candlewick. 2007. pap. $12.99. ISBN 9780763630232; ebk. $7.99. ISBN 9781893131217.
Gr 7 Up–Though Beowulf’s battles with Grendel and Grendel’s mother get most of the press, it’s his final and fatal encounter with a dragon that in many respects shows him at his most heroic. Here his exploits are recounted in a stately adaptation, illustrated with dark, powerful images of the towering Geat warrior and the authentically frightening monsters he faces.

MCALPINE, Gordon. Once Upon a Midnight Eerie. illus. by Sam Zuppardi. (The Misadventures of Edgar & Allan Poe.) Viking. 2014. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780670784936; ebk. $10.99. ISBN 9780698136526.
Gr 4-6–The multi-great grandnephews of Edgar Allan Poe meet ghostly victims of Jean Lafitte’s murderous brother—setting off a quest that requires solving coded clues, “borrowing” a museum exhibit, kidnapping, nighttime visits to a spooky New Orleans cemetery, and the discovery of a fabulous hoard of pirate treasure. Audio version available from Random House Audio.

MUKHERJEE, Poulomi. Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves. illus. by Amit Tayal. (Campfire Graphic Novels). Kalyani Navyug Media/Campfire. 2011. pap. $9.99. ISBN 9789380741130.
Gr 6-8–Arabian Nights meets Bollywood in this graphic recasting of the old tale. A humble cab driver in modern Mumbai, Ali Baba comes upon loot belonging to a menacing gang of bank robbers—and (unlike his greedy brother) survives. The art, dialogue, and plot twists are expertly spun into a melodramatic, fast-paced, tongue-in-cheek rendition.

OWEN, James. Lost Treasures of the Pirates of the Caribbean. illus. by Jeremy Owen & James Owen. S. & S. 2011. pap. $16.99. ISBN 9781442430938.
Gr 4-6 –Blending in historical facts about real buccaneers for verisimilitude, this gallery of red and black (supposed) treasure maps offers sharp-eyed readers opportunities to pore over exotic terrain, interpret coded messages, and spot embedded clues that lead to no fewer than 14 fabulous hoards of stolen riches.

STEER, Dugald. Pirateology. (Ologies). Candlewick. 2006. Tr $19.99. ISBN 9780763631437. pap. $17.99. ISBN 9780763635824.
Gr 4-6–Decked out with “real” pieces of eight, gold dust, maps, and other artifacts, this fictional journal records a pirate hunter’s world-spanning pursuit of swashbuckling Arabella Drummond—and the golden plunder she buried. Along the way readers will get generous measures of information about pirates and piracy in many waters, nautical lore, weaponry, and other hidden treasures.

STEVENSON, Robert Louis. Treasure Island. illus. by N. C. Wyeth. (Scribner Classics) S. & S./Atheneum. 2012. Tr $24.99. ISBN 9781442474444.
Gr 5-8–Stevenson’s classic tale of piratical greed, villainy, and revenge hasn’t lost any of its power to captivate readers, and no illustrator has surpassed Wyeth in capturing its heart-pounding drama and larger-than-life characters. Still, for robust visuals, Tim Hamilton’s gripping graphic adaptation (Puffin, 2005) merits honorable mention.

Peters-John_Contrib_WebJohn Peters is a children’s literature consultant in New York City.

This article was published in School Library Journal's August 2014 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.



  1. So happy to see Doomwyte on the list!

    Another good title is “Slathbog’s Gold” by M. L. Forman, first in the “Adventurer’s Wanted” series.

    Thanks for the great list!