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Avast! It Be A Pirate Ship in the School Library

One-Eyed Willie Inspires Young Readers

By Dave Arnold

Verla Reed is not a pirate. She’s a school librarian. Her name is perfect for a job that promotes reading. Her extensive knowledge of print and digital research methods also fit her job perfectly. But I think she really wants to be a pirate.

So much so that she helped design and build a 16-foot long pirate ship that is now docked inside the school library.

“No matter how old we become, we all would like to have been a pirate,” says Reed, a veteran of the Brownstown Elementary School library in Illinois.

Christened last month as the Jolly Reader, the sturdy single-deck vessel is painted in the school colors of purple and gold. Benches were built along the inside perimeter of the ship for the children to sit and read. The single mast at the bow looks real enough to withstand even the strongest gale.


Center of Learning

The kids can't wait for library period each day so they can all get aboard. So far, no one has gotten sea sick, but I’ve heard them joke about being forced to walk the plank if they misbehave.

Reed has surrounded the sleek-looking sloop with a treasure chest of gold coins and seashells, a parrot, ship’s wheel, and numerous other artifacts you might find on the movie set of Pirates of the Caribbean. The Reader flies the Jolly Roger flag and has as its captain a four-foot tall replica of One-Eyed Willie from the movie, The Goonies.

“The kids love him,” says Reed, a librarian for 18 years and member of the Brownstown Education Support Professionals.

It’s too early to tell whether One-Eyed Willie will help improve reading scores, but since the ship arrived last month, library attendance is up and more books are being checked out.

Shiver me timbers!

Reed built the ship over the summer with help from her husband, Jerry, and their friend, Melvin Willms. Though none had ever built a boat, Willms owned the local lumberyard and building supply store. He kicked off the project by measuring the available space and drawing up the plans. Since the vessel couldn’t be built inside Willms modest shop, the team had to work evenings and weekends to construct it inside the library.

It’s not every librarian who’ll take on a project like this, but Reed is not your typical prim librarian with her hair in a bun. She’s a spunky redhead who is north of 50 years old. She wears oval glasses, but she’s no Marian the Librarian from The Music Man, though Marian is “a pretty cool gal,” according to Reed.

When I first saw the pirate’s cove, I was in awe at the magical learning environment. Our teachers have said that students can’t wait to visit the library, check out a book, and secure a seat in the cove.

Becoming a Bookworm

In our digital world, it seems more difficult to get children interested in reading books. Reading skills are the foundation of our children’s future success in the work world and everyday life.

If it takes a fantasy pirate ship to get children to spend time at the library, so be it. Someday Brownstown’s former students will be able to look back and remember the day they entered the pirate’s cove. They will be grateful to Reed for making reading exciting and enjoyable.

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Dave Arnold, a member of the Illinois Education Association, is a custodian at Brownstown Elementary School in Southern Illinois. He can be contacted at

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the NEA or its affiliates.

Dave's View has been discontinued following the retirement of its author, Dave Arnold. Even though new columns will not be posted, we encourage you to review past columns.