This fantasy adventure book by Mary Pope Osborne is the fourth in the "Magic Tree House" series and is published by Random House.
Pirates Past Noon is written for kids ages 5 to 8. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.
Jack and his younger sister, Annie, visit the tree house on a rainy afternoon, taking along the gold medallion marked with an M and several bookmarks they have collected on previous expeditions. Once inside the tree house, they reminisce about the things they've seen at the places they’ve visited: dinosaurs, a knight in armor and an Egyptian mummy. Annie spots a book opened to a picture of a parrot on a beach and wishes to travel there. Instantly a real parrot appears in the tree outside of the tree house, and the children are transported to a tropical beach. The parrot, which Annie calls "Polly," welcomes them from its perch in a palm tree.
While splashing in the waves, the children spot a large ship in the distance. Jack notices the skull and crossbones on its flag. It's a pirate ship. He looks at the cover of the book he’s holding and reads the title, Pirates of the Caribbean. The book reveals that pirates used to rob Spanish ships hundreds of years ago on the Caribbean Sea. As Jack writes this information in his notebook, a rowboat leaves the pirate ship and heads toward them. The children run toward the tree house, until Jack remembers he left the book on the beach and returns for it.
Jack retrieves the book, but as he runs to catch up with his sister, three pirates leave their rowboat and chase him. One of them grabs him by the arm. The pirate announces that no one can escape Captain Bones and demands that Jack show him what is in the tree house.
The two other pirates climb up to the tree house and tell Captain Bones that it’s full of books. Captain Bones orders Jack and Annie to tell him where the rest of the treasure is. The children protest that they don’t have any treasure, but the pirate shows them a map that says Kidd’s treasure is nearby. He admits that he can’t read the writing on the map and agrees to let the children go if they will help him find the treasure.
The message on the map suggests that there is gold buried beneath a whale’s eye. Infuriated by this ridiculous clue, Captain Bones orders the other pirates to take Jack and Annie back to the ship and keep them there until they’re willing to help him find the treasure. From the rowboat, Annie sees Polly trying to fly toward them, but the winds are too strong. The parrot turns back toward the island.
When they reach the ship, the pirates lock Jack and Annie in a small cabin. Jack studies the book and learns that a famous pirate named Captain Kidd once buried a chest filled with gold on an island. He realizes that this is the treasure Captain Bones wants to find. As he reads, Annie looks out the window and notices an island shaped like a whale, with a palm tree resembling its spout and a rock resembling its eye. The children understand that the treasure must be buried beneath that rock.
Jack tells Captain Bones that he will take the pirate to the treasure. The pirates put the children in the rowboat and make their way to the island. Captain Bones holds the children hostage while the others move the rock and dig. A thunderstorm moves toward them, and the pirates notice Polly circling overhead, squawking. They take her appearance as a bad omen. They immediately hurry to their rowboat to return to their ship, without uncovering the treasure and leaving the children behind.
Annie wants to leave, too, but her brother continues looking for the treasure. Then Polly addresses Jack in what sounds like a human voice, telling him to leave, and Jack obeys. The children return to the tree house and wish to go back to Frog Creek. Soon they are home.
Just as Annie tells Jack that she wishes Polly could have come back with them, they hear a familiar squawk. Polly flies into the tree house and transforms into an enchantress who identifies herself as Morgan le Fay. Morgan claims to have placed a spell on the tree house so that it has the ability to transport her anywhere in time. She tells Annie and Jack that the tree house is invisible to everyone but them and that they have been granted access to it because Annie believes in magic. The fact that Jack loves books has helped her magic spell to work. She tells the children that she is a librarian and that she travels in the tree house to collect books from around the world and throughout time.
Jack returns the gold medallion to Morgan, who explains that she dropped it when she was visiting the dinosaurs. She admits that she has been traveling with the children, disguising herself in order to help them when they get into trouble.
The children climb out of the tree house and wave goodbye to their new friend. As the wind begins to blow, the tree house disappears. Jack puts his hands in his pockets as they walk home and is surprised to find the medallion there. Annie explains that Morgan must have magically put it there and believes that they will see her again. Jack looks at the flowers and trees around them, glistening with raindrops, and believes that Annie had been right to tell him to forget the treasure chest because there is real treasure all around him.
Morgan, the creator of the tree house, watches over the children as a parrot in this book and in other forms of life in the previous books. She protects them and keeps them safe, but until this book, she did not let the children know she was with them. She uses magic spells to keep her identity hidden from them. She allows them to see the tree house, which is invisible to others, because Annie believes in magic.
Captain Bones forces the children to help him by threatening to kill them if they don't translate the treasure map for him. He exerts his authority over the other pirates by shouting orders at them. He locks the children in a dark cabin until they agree to help him.
Other belief systems
As they approach the tree house, Annie has a premonition that the mysterious owner has recently been there. The children witness the transformation of a bird into a woman named Morgan le Fay, whose magic spell enables the tree house to transport the children through time. She tells Annie that her belief in magic is what enables her to see the invisible tree house. Jack says he has read that she is a witch. She calls herself an enchantress and tells Jack that he must not believe everything he reads. Captain Bones and his men believe in omens. They took Polly's squawking as a bad omen and left the treasure to hurry back to their ship.
The pirates engage in duels and fist fights. Captain Bones tells the children that they will rot on his ship unless they tell him how to find the treasure.
If your children have read this book or someone has read it to them, consider these discussion topics:
- What are Jack's and Annie's reaction to Captain Bones kidnapping them and saying that he won't free them until they help him?
Would they have helped him if he had asked? How should he have asked for their help?
- Why might Captain Bones hate books?
What does he consider to be "something good"?
What kind of books do you like?
What do you think is "something good"?
- What do Pinky and Stinky do when Captain Bones shoots his pistol into the air?
How are they "gold-greedy" pirates?
What does it mean to be greedy? What is something you really like or want?
How can you keep from being greedy about it?
- Why is Jack tempted to look inside the treasure chest?
Why does he leave without opening it?
Why was that a good choice? What was more important than Kidd's treasure?
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