Peter was the leader of the orphan boys at St. Norbert’s for several reasons. First, he was the oldest—or at least he said he was. He was also very smart and very brave. And he could spit the farthest, which is an important qualification for leadership. So when Peter, James, Prentiss, Thomas, and Tubby Ted end up as cabin boys on the rickety old ship the “Never Land” on their way to become snake food at the royal palace of King Zarboff the Third, Peter takes charge. He leaves the rat-infested cabin every night to find the other boys some food. That’s how he meets Molly, a girl who can talk to porpoises, and discovers the mysterious trunk that she is guarding—a trunk with the power to make rats fly and men feel light as a feather. Molly is the daughter of a Starcatcher, in charge of protecting the trunk’s magic from the evil “Others” in her father’s absence. But when Molly learns that her enemies are onboard the “Never Land,” she needs Peter’s help to keep the trunk and its contents safe. And then, there are the pirates: Black Stache and Smee and the terrible crew of the “Sea Devil” who also want to get their hands on the greatest treasure ever to be taken on the sea.
This prequel to Peter Pan is a wonderful adventure story full of action, magic, and humor (it is very clear that Dave Barry is one of the writers). It is the first in a series, followed by Peter and the Shadow Thieves, Peter and the Secret of Rundoon and Peter and the Sword of Mercy. They are intended for an upper elementary/ middle grade audience, but this is one grown up who enjoys them very much! There are also several “spin-off” books about the Lost Boys and the adventures of the Mollusk Indians: Escape from the Carnivale, Cave of the Dark Wind, Blood Tide, and The Bridge to Neverland.
A word on the series: The first book can stand alone. There are a few things that aren’t explained fully, but you can make the jump from the ending of Starcatchers to the beginning of Peter Pan pretty easily. Shadow Thieves and Secret of Rundoon are a lot scarier than Starcatchers (I read Starcatchers aloud with a 5-year-old and a 7-year-old with a few minor alterations to pirate vocabulary and behavior, and they loved it, but I did not continue on in the series because it would have been too scary). It’s fine for 4-6th graders, who are the book’s intended audience, but just a heads up if you start it as a read aloud with younger kids—preview the Shadow Thieves before you jump in! The fourth book, Sword of Mercy, breaks the prequel logic, unfortunately, because it occurs years after the first three end, and involves the Darling children, but does not fit into the original Peter Pan timeline. So that disappointed me. I might recommend only reading books 1-3. But if you really enjoy the characters and won’t be bothered by the series becoming more “fan fiction” than true “prequel,” Sword of Mercy is a good book, too.