How to Be a Pirate

How to Be a Pirate How to Be a Pirate is the second book in the How to Train Your Dragon series. The look and tone are pretty much the same—scrawled illustrations, vaguely rude humor, splotches in the margins, changing fonts and random capitalization, maps and lists and such that further explain parts of the story. Hiccup is still far from being the hero he’ll eventually become, but he continues to grow into a good future leader.

Having barely survived their Viking initiation, the boys are now subjected to pirate lessons—creative insults, sword fighting, senseless violence, stealing stuff, etc. Hiccup is feeling the pressure because his great-great-grandfather was the legendary Viking pirate, Grimbeard the Ghastly.

Caught in a storm during pirate lessons, the boys find the coffin of Grimbeard, clearly marked “DO NOT OPEN.” Although Hiccup, Toothless, and Fishlegs think it’s a horrible idea, of course the rest of the tribe opens the coffin. Inside is a person who claims to be Alvin, an honest farmer in possession of a treasure map to Grimbeard’s treasure. Only the true heir of Grimbeard will be able to find the treasure. Snotlout has been claiming he’s the better heir, so Hiccup’s dad decides finding the treasure is a great way to prove Hiccup’s worth.

Along the way, they encounter terrifying dragons, a group of pirates, and a horrific tentacled sea monster. Hiccup faces it with his usual dour cleverness with the stubborn and often useless Toothless by his side.

SPOILER ALERT: Things you might want to know before suggesting this to your kid


Snotlout’s severe bullying of Hiccup continues. It’s occasionally truly deadly, like removing the safety case from the sword of Hiccup’s opponent. It’s becoming obvious that his goal is to get Hiccup killed so Snotlout will be the heir. The books are funny, but Snotlout is seriously trying to kill Hiccup.


There’s plenty of violence in this book. There are a few standouts, like the pirates who intend to eat Stoick and his heir. The horrific sea monster is transparent and eats its food alive—Hiccup can see several of its previous meals, not all of which are dead yet. Earlier we saw this creature somewhat graphically eat a baby dragon. Hiccup’s fight with this monster is also pretty graphic.

Stoick proves the battle prowess that led to his reputation. He may be old and a bit out of shape, but he’s an impressive warrior when he needs to be.


I didn’t really notice the first time around, but there are no young female characters in these books. No one even has a sister worth mentioning. There are aunts and mothers who are not to be trifled with, and several of the dragons are female, but there are no female peers for the main characters.

This made it all the more obvious to me when several times in illustrations about insults the word “girly” is used as an insult. It’s not part of the main text, nor is any kind of point made about it, but, especially combined with the lack of female characters, it bothered me a bit.

Middle Grade Humor

Fart jokes and comments run throughout the book. Toothless poops in Alvin’s helmet and bites Dogsbreath on the bum (there are illustrations of both of these things). The names continue to verge on vulgar.

Greed vs. Family

Hiccup watches his father almost become a different person when presented with the possibility of treasure. Stoick and his brother fight over who owns the treasure they find. However, Stoick abandons treasure when Hiccup’s life is in danger and the brothers join together to fight a mutual enemy. In the end, family trumps everything.

Hiccup finds the amazingly huge treasure of Grimbeard, but he learns why it’s hidden—Grimbeard knew it would only ruin his tribe because of all the jealousy and greed. He hid it in the hope that future generations would be more civilized and be able to use the treasure for good. Hiccup leaves the treasure where it is—even though it would prove he’s the heir and make him a hero, he decides his tribe isn’t ready for it yet. In the epilogue we learn that he died an old man, having never decided his tribe could handle it. The treasure remains safely under the sea.

Hiccup and Fishlegs return empty-handed and unheroic. But the tribe, who were in mourning for them because they thought they were dead, gives them a hero’s welcome.

Being a True Leader

Snotlout has all the stereotypical aspects of a leader, but it’s Hiccup who steps forward when the pirates, intent on eating the leader and his heir, ask who Stoick’s heir is. When it’s all about glory and treasure, Snotlout is happy to be considered the heir. But when it comes to diplomacy, cleverness, and loyalty, Hiccup has him beat.

Looking at Things from a Different Angle

Hiccup feels like he should be good at sword fighting (and we know that as a grown up he’s an excellent swordsman) but he’s miserable at it. When his right arm is injured, he discovers that he’s actually left-handed. Also, it turns out that Fishlegs is a Berserker!


Like the first book in the series, there’s a good message hiding behind the rude and silly humor. Things aren’t what they appear, leadership is about more than beating people up effectively, and sometimes to be successful you need to approach things from a different angle. I enjoyed reading it, but most importantly my boy devoured it about 24 hours. If it’ll keep him reading like that, we’ll keep getting books from the series.


How to Be a Pirate by Cressida Cowell
Published in 2004 by Little, Brown and Company
Second in the How to Train Your Dragon series
Read my son’s copy




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