Reprinted with permission from The Treasure of Barracuda
By Llanos Campos, illustrated by Júlia Sardà
Translated from Spanish by Lawrence Schimel.
English translation Copyright © 2016 by Little Pickle Press, Inc.
English edition published by arrangement with Ediciones SM through Sylvia Hayse Literary Agency LLC. All rights reserved.
“Blasted freshwater fishermen! And you call yourselves pirates?” Captain Barracuda shouted from the bridge. “I swear I’ll hang anyone who abandons his station from the mizzen!”
The entire crew of the Southern Cross was terrified and shook in their boots. Barracuda was the pirate most feared by other pirates. Clever and merciless, he boasted of having no friends. His face was crisscrossed with scars. His left hand was missing, and in its place was an enormous, rusty hook. No one ever dared to ask him how he had lost it, so there were many legends about the matter.
“But, Captain…,” Nuño, an old Spaniard who had sailed the Seven Seas, dared to say. “We’ve been sailing for ten days with no sign of the wretched island of Kopra. The men doubt if it really exists. Perhaps we should turn around…”
The pirates began shouting, protesting, and cursing in Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, and English. So much swearing in so many languages that it’s impossible for me to write it all down here.
“By all the devils of the sea,” Barracuda roared, banging the ship’s helm with his hook. “If you lot don’t stop whining, I’ll send you to swim with the sharks! I tell you that the island exists! And that it’s there, right in front of your dirty noses! This ship will reach Kopra, even if I have to sail it alone! Whoever doesn’t want to go can swim back to Maracaibo! I won’t tolerate a mutiny on board!”
At that moment, Two Molars shouted from the crow’s nest: “Land ahoy! To port! Yes! Land!”
For a moment, there was such a silence that you could have heard a cockroach scuttling.
“To your places, you slimy sardines,” shouted Captain Barracuda. And as if they had gone mad, the pirates began running from one end of the deck to the other.
Among the pirates, a young lad with a face full of freckles, green eyes, and a head full of red curls tugged on the cords that released the sails. That was me, Sparks. I was eleven-years-old and had been part of this crew since I was eight. Nuño had found me in a port on Española Island, where I’d been abandoned to my luck at some point I can’t remember, and the other pirates had let me stay. At first, I gutted fish, helped in the kitchen, and swabbed the deck. Without complaining. That’s why, finally, those men began to treat me with something like affection (pirate affection, you understand: knocks on the head, tugs at the ear, and slaps on the back). Little by little, they were willing to teach me things about the pirate profession. No one knows my name from before; even I don’t remember it. So they called me Sparks (because of my red hair), and nothing more was said about the matter. So, if you suddenly read “we disembarked” or “we entered into battle,” don’t think that I’m exaggerating or lying. I was there.
But let’s not get distracted from the story. We approached the island of Kopra. It was, as Barracuda had told us, barely a small pile of sand in the middle of the sea. We brought the ship in until the keel scraped the sandy bottom and then we lowered the boats. In them, piled together like the hairs of a beard, we rowed to the beach. Fifty-three pirates disembarked on that little island, and it was so crowded, it was fit to bursting. And if you tripped, there wasn’t even room to fall. The captain commanded us to encircle the island and to stand in knee-deep water. So that’s what we did. Then, Barracuda started counting off giant strides: two to the south, ten to the east, five to the north, two complete somersaults over his left shoulder, and two leaps backward on one leg.
Boasnovas, also called One-Eyed because, well, he had only one eye, was tempted to laugh, but he controlled himself. It wasn’t time for jokes.
“Here it is!” Barracuda said, using his hook to mark an X in the sand. “Right here! Start digging!”
We took turns digging. While two dug, another two pushed the sand excavated from the hole to the sea. The rest of us stood looking on from the water’s edge. It was such a small area; no one else could fit on the island. No one thought that such a tiny island could be so deep, but it took seven turns of two men digging until, finally, one of the shovels hit something solid. It then took five pirates to pull it out of the hole.
It was an enormous black chest and as heavy as if the entire Dutch Antilles was inside it. Fifty-two pairs of eyes (plus Boasnovas’s single eye) were fixated on it. If Barracuda was telling the truth (and nobody had ever caught him in a lie), then on that day all those pirates had just become filthy rich, so rich that they could leave behind a life of wandering the seas, if that’s what they wanted. Because inside that dark wooden box was the famous treasure of Phineas Krane, the oldest pirate to have sailed the South Seas. And it was buried there because, as everyone knew, Phineas Krane died while boarding a Dutch vessel, right as he retired to enjoy his old age. Many had searched for the treasure since then, but only clever Barracuda had believed an old man who, in jail on the island of Tortuga, shouted at all hours that he knew exactly where Krane’s treasure was.
“Fry me in pig fat!” Nuño the Spaniard exclaimed, with a smile that stretched from ear to ear. “He told the truth! That crazy old codger from Tortuga told the truth! Phineas Krane’s treasure!”
A monumental ruckus erupted. Everyone cheered loudly for Barracuda, crying “Hurrah!” and “Bravo!” Then, the captain, using his hook as a lever, busted the lock on the coffer and lifted the heavy lid. The hinges let loose a rusty squeal.
If you had been there at that moment, you would have seen the most surprised group of pirates in the world, standing with their mouths and eyes opened wider than you would ever think was possible. Fifty-three defrauded pirates, that’s what you would have seen. Because there, in the bottom of the enormous chest, was…a book! That was it! Phineas’ treasure was a blasted book!
“Does anyone know how to read?” One-Legged Jack asked in a low voice.
Llanos Campos was born in Albacete in 1963. She is an actor and playwright. “The Treasure of Barracuda” is Llanos’ debut novel, and won the prestigious Premio El Barco de Vapor (“Steam Boat Award”) in 2014. Find out more about Llanos at http://www.falsariadeindias.com/
Lawrence Schimel was born in New York City in 1971 and has lived in Madrid, Spain since January of 1999. He writes in both Spanish and English and has published over 100 books in many different genres–including fiction, poetry, non-fiction, and comics–for both children and adults. He is also a prolific literary translator from Spanish. Lawrence also started the Spain chapter of SCBWI and served as Regional Advisor for 5 years.
“A clever, laugh-out-loud pirate story unlike any I’ve read! Hilarity ensues when Captain Barracuda and his motley crew discover a treasure of words that leads them on a rollicking adventure through the Caribbean. A story—whether of pirates on a quest or of space explorers on a mission—begins with a word. And knowing how to read that word might just be the most valuable treasure of all.”
– Robin Bernheim, writer/producer of Star Trek: Voyager and Star Trek: The Next Generation; executive producer of When Calls the Heart
“This exciting homage to literacy masquerading as a rollicking pirate adventure will not only keep readers’ interest, but make them eager to seek more treasures found in books.”
– Yapha Nussbaum Mason, School Librarian and two-time member of the Newbery Medal Selection Committee
“Hot off the press on October 11, 2016, The Treasure of Barracuda mustn’t be missed. Brilliant in every way, this choice boasts a wild cast of colorful characters that seamlessly blend together in this suspenseful, hilarious, action-packed adventure novel that is a solid nod to the magic that happens when you read.”
– Kendal Rautzhan, “Great books about reading,” The Times Herald