Where the wild pirates are

Posted in brought, caught, sought by juliobesq on December 7, 2009

Superhero, pirate and robot supplies (courtesy of Wikipedia)

Pirates, time travel and Captain Najork

Towards the end of March this year the trailer for Spike Jonze’s ‘Where The Wild Things Are’ hit our laptop screens. I immediately scrawled a post what with it being a favourite book from my childhood, and since read to my brood, brought my nephews, etc., along with being a fan of Jonze’s work. But I relinquished it to the draughts bin figuring it would be all over the internet already.

With it’s impending release the glossies are again filling with interviews and articles on Jonze, but with no mention of the reason I wanted to write it up. The screenplay is by co-authored with Dave Eggers. And it’s not even that he wrote it. It’s what he has done.

He is a hero, a superhero in fact. And pirate.

I have a pile of his books on my desk that I have brought but never read. So why is he a hero to me? Simple, in 2002 along with Ninive Calegari he founded 826 Valencia – a writing lab to help local students with free one-to-one literacy help. And sell pirate supplies.

The empty premises they rented in which to set up the writing centre and publishers office had only zoning for retail as SimCity has taught me to say: it could only be opened as a shop. So they decided to use the front as a front, selling pirate supplies. What takes this from being a good idea to brilliance is their attention to detail, aside from the fact that what their mission could genuinely be described as awesome, it is also a very splendid pirate suppliers, one of David Byrne’s top five in fact.

Which then inspired the Brooklyn Superhero Supply Co. or 826NYC, where a secret door between the invisibility potions and cloaks leads you into the writing lab. There’s 826michigan or Liberty Street Robot Supply & Repair, 826LA or the Echo Park Time Travel Mart, 826CHI or The Boring Store (which doesn’t have anything to do with spies), 826 Seattle or Greenwood Space Travel Supply Co., and 826 Boston better known as The Greater Boston Bigfoot Research Institute.

I could rattle on about the inspiring work they do and the fantastic stores they front the labs with but Dave Eggers does a much better job of it, here’s his TED talk on the project:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Or watch it at your leisure over at TED –

The attention to detail and humour does not stop with the physical stores and the produce, each has a wonderful web site too.

And not to forget the fantastic work they do head over to and read up on forthcoming events, then onto to find out how you can help your local school. In case that last part didn’t register: if you don’t live close enough to 826 to donate a couple of afternoons every six months, then Eggers has set up Once Upon A School, an organisation seeded with prize money from TED, offering support to people in volunteering at their local schools.

Don’t worry, I feel shallow and complacent after hearing him talk too.

But there is value in goofing off, fooling around and playing too, which is the moral behind “How Tom beat Captain Najork and his hired Sportsmen” by Russell Hoban, another favourite book of mine supposedly intended for children. Whilst Eggers re-imagined the picture book ‘Where the wild things are’ for adults, Hoban who is an award winning author best known for ‘Ridley Walker’ and ‘Angelica’s Grotto’ also writes childrens’ books, much like Roald Dahl, who also used Quentin Blake’s illustration skills.

His invented language skills seen in ‘Ridley Walker’ comes into wonderful play during ‘How Tom…’ where the protagonist has to eat his greasy bloaters and potato sog under the watchful eye of aunt Fidget Wonkham-Strong, who wears an iron hat. Highly highly recommended and like Antoine De Saint-Exupery’s ‘The Little Prince’ reminds us that play is as important as any business ethos.Track down a copy via, or Amazon if you must.

Feed your inner child. Just not on cabbage and potato sog.

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