Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Secret Agent #18

Title: Treachery on the High Seas
Genre: MG Narrative Nonfiction

On December 10, 1844, the U.S. Navy sloop Yorktown encountered heavy squalls. Thunder roared. Waves crashed against the warship cruising east towards West Africa. For brief moments, lightning flashed through the sky illuminating the Atlantic Ocean.

Captain Charles Heyer Bell gazed across the horizon—no land in sight. During his command a few years before, the sick list included half his crew suffering from a mysterious illness now known as malaria. The disease killed more Navy sailors than storms or pirates.

At 10:30 p.m., Captain Bell spotted a large vessel astern. Too far away to see a flag flying from her mast, he took no chances. “Beat to quarters and cast loose the guns!”

In response, William Kidwell grabbed two wooden sticks and beat the drum. John Smith played the fife loud enough to wake the crew and call them to action.

Startled awake, men jumped from canvas hammocks and pulled on their uniforms of blue cloth trousers and jackets. One hundred sailors and sixteen marines, including several musicians, had crossed the Atlantic Ocean from New York only a few weeks before. Many were inexperienced “Boys” as young as thirteen.

Throughout each deck and cabin of the USS Yorktown, officers and sailors fumbled in the dark for weapons and ammunition.

Captain Bell had warned them about the ruthless captains and sailors who flagrantly broke international laws and treaties.

Pirates, they were.

But these pirates were involved in the transatlantic slave trade from Africa to Brazil, Cuba, and the Americas.

8 comments:

  1. I really like the details about the setting, the instruments, and the objects on the ship. However, the opening starts with a storm, so I think it’s going to dive into a storm/shipwreck. But then it shifts to talking about disease, and it shifts a third time to pirates.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I really like the details about the setting, the instruments, and the objects on the ship. However, the opening starts with a storm, so I think it’s going to dive into a storm/shipwreck. But then it shifts to talking about disease, and it shifts a third time to pirates.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I really like the details about the setting, the instruments, and the objects on the ship. However, the opening starts with a storm, so I think it’s going to dive into a storm/shipwreck. But then it shifts to talking about disease, and it shifts a third time to pirates.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I liked your opening paragraph, especially the description of the lightning. I'm always interested in story about the ocean!

    Sometimes I felt like you delivered information too much like a history book. For example, the sentence, "The disease killed more Navy sailors than storms or pirates." It was very factual, not like a story. I noticed your genre is non-fiction and that's not an area I have experience in, but if it's supposed to be narrative there might be ways to be more subtle about dropping educational information.

    I hope that helps! Good luck!

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  5. I liked this, but then I'm a fan of Michael Tougias. ;-) I do agree with the point about switching to disease in the second paragraph. I think there's a purpose behind it -- to show he's captained under much worse conditions than the mere seasickness that gripped his inexperienced crew below. But sometimes you need to say that, make the point for readers, especially in non-fiction, where they may feel too inexpert to extrapolate from the facts you're giving them. I also think there's probably a better way you can transition to the last sentence, "But these pirates were..." Maybe first say what pirates of the time period dealt in -- what did they aim to steal from ships on the high seas? And what would cause them to switch from pure predation to shipping people across the Atlantic? And then, I'm guessing here, was the Navy out to stop them? Or would it let them pass? I'd read the heck out of this!

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  6. I agree with positive comments from AMB. I, too, would be interested in reading and using with kids. I teach 4th graders and boys love nonfiction, not to mention pirates!
    I thought par one captured me right away; foretold of danger and excitement.
    In Par two: I thought the second sentence was too long and would be more effective if you broke into two sentences.
    In par. 5, you start with a slight echo from the previous paragraph: wake and awake. I would cut "startled awake" and "their" in the first sentence. I did get confused in this par and would like more clarifying details. Why were there musicians on the ship? Are you referring to other ships on previous crossings before this one? Why is boys capitalized?
    In the last sentence, I assume "these pirates" means the ones about to attack their ship? And would the commander of the Yorktown know that these pirates were part of the transatlantic slave trade? How? Perhaps some more explanation is needed? Or are you simply trying to clue in the reader?
    This could be a great mentor text as well with 4th grade writers...strong verbs, great descriptive opening...

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  7. I have a lot of questions:

    Why is Captain Bell thinking about a malaria outbreak from years before? Doesn’t seem relevant to the current moment.

    Was he expecting to find land, searching for hostile ships, or worried about this storm? The second paragraph overall seems disconnected from the rest of the scene and I'm not sure what his objective is.

    And the final lines are confusing again—I see that the men had been warned previously of treaty-ignoring pirates, but does the last line mean the crew has now identified the current ship as a trans-Atlantic slave ship?

    Overall, though, this hook has fantastic tension and I’m curious about the historical perspective being presented. I'd keep reading.

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