The most powerful pirate in history was a woman who was born into poverty in Guangzhou, China, in the late 1700s. When pirates attacked her town and the captain took a liking to her, she saw a way out. Zheng Yi Sao agreed to marry him only if she got an equal share of his business. When her husband died six years later, she took command of the fleet.

Over the next decade, the pirate queen built a fleet of over 1,800 ships and 70,000 men. On land and sea, Zheng Yi Sao's power rivaled the emperor himself. Time and again, her ships triumphed over the emperor's ships.

When she was ready to retire, Zheng Yi Sao surrendered - on her own terms, of course. Even though there was a price on her head, she was able to negotiate her freedom, living in peace and prosperity for the rest of her days.

Zheng Yi Sao's powerful story is told in lyrical prose by award-winning author Helaine Becker. Liz Wong's colorful, engaging illustrations illuminate this inspiring woman in history.

An author's note provides historical context and outlines the challenges of researching a figure about whom little is known.

Pirate Queen: A Story Of Zheng Yi Sao

ISBN - 13:9781773061245/ $17.95


"A poetic first-person story that’s both believable and readable. Wong’s stylized pencil illustrations highlight intricate details that epitomize turn-of-the-19th-century China, a restrained palette providing color.

A welcome addition to the growing strong-women-in-history shelf. (sources, further references, note on names)."
                                                                                                    --Kirkus Reviews

" GR 1–5—Fortune decided that she should take to the seas. But Zheng Yi Sao used her own intelligence, diplomacy, and strategy to become a leader of unprecedented power. Kidnapped by pirates as a young woman, Zheng Yi Sao negotiates equity in her marriage to the pirate captain. Upon her husband's death, the Pirate Queen took over his empire, effectively running the government and economy of the South China Sea region, amassing great wealth and power. At the same time, she worked to protect the wives of pirates. Years later, Fortune smiled upon as the Pirate Queen as she sailed away from Canton, free and rich. The first-person narrative is at once deliberate and lyrical, interwoven with imagery that recurs at significant moments in Zheng Yi Sao's life. The precise illustrations, created with pencil on bristol board and colored digitally, use visual motifs that support the recurring themes and images, most notably the glowing Jade Rabbit Moon. Soft colors and strong compositions, along with Wong's attention to detail, bring far away scenes to life. Unfortunately, there's less vitality and energy in the characters. This fictional account is based on what little is known of the real Pirate Queen, who's name is still unknown (Zheng Yi Sao simply means "Wife of Zheng Yi"). The author's note delineates between fact and fiction. Additional back matter includes sources, further reading, and notes about alternate spellings for the names used in the book. VERDICT Well-researched, this fictionalized account of a powerful woman from history will captivate readers and inspire further exploration."

                                                                                                      -- School Library Journal

"This first-person narrative recounts the story of the most successful pirate, a woman whose name is unknown, but is known as Zheng Yi Sao (“wife of Zheng Yi”). Although this is a picture book, it is geared toward young pirates who can read. Yet it is also a tale that will engage adult pirates as well. Becker does a commendable job keeping the narrative g-rated, historically accurate, and on an even keel. The combination of subtle text and expressive pictures weaves a convincing tale filled with emotion and conveys a sense of place that transports readers back to China at the turn of the nineteenth century. For readers who wish to know more about the real Zheng Yi Sao, Becker summarizes what we know of her and includes resources where additional information can be found. Pirate Queen is a wonderful introduction to a successful pirate who never forgot she was a woman and who forged a second life once she retired from the sea."

                                       --Pirates and Privateers:The History of Maritime Piracy Journal

"Look at that cover. Fierce and beautiful and unrelenting– like the sea.

This is the startlingly unromantic story of a girl taken captive by pirates who, businesslike, agrees to marry the captain of the fleet only if she gets an equal share of the business. When her pirate husband dies (within six years), she takes sole command of the fleet, builds on her successes, and finally works and wins her way to wealthy freedom.

I’m not going to go into the details of the historicity or bother to retell Helaine Becker’s telling of the story– get the book for that. Her writing is clear, straightforward, and riveting. Meanwhile, the backmatter is very upfront about what the history is, and where she’s filled in the gaps with her best guesses to make a convincing narrative. I thoroughly enjoyed the read and think it would make a great contribution to any school lesson on pirates: a true, eye-opening narrative.

What I’m going to do here is tell you that, for me, at least, this was the story I needed now, right now, during Covid-19 when everything is homebound and difficult.

You see, I’m like Bilbo Baggins (sorry, reading The Hobbit aloud to my daughter every night– it’s on the brain): I never thought I was adventurous and I always thought I wanted to be home with my family all the time. And, you know, I do love it! But I hate feeling confined. When I read this book, I realized I really wanted to go over The Water, as Bilbo would have it.

And Zheng Yi Sao is a new figure to me on the open sea of the imagination: she never did dream of the sea, but the sea took her, and she didn’t wail or slip into a funk. No. She lifted her chin and said, “If this is what’s to be, I’m going to make the best of it.” Helaine Becker’s text has her decide to write her own scroll, not be used up ink for the benefit of others. Liz Wong’s art (pencil on bristol board, coloured digitally) shows a face both sensitive and fierce, never backing down, but open to negotiation with fate. And she made her own way and looked out for the fortunes of those who worked beneath her. After finally facing a real storm in my own lifetime, good grief, do I respect that kind of resilience and strength!

We’re going through a storm now, and we’re huddling away from the raging waters. Reading this reminds me to look to my own resourcefulness and do what I can in these troubled times. I hope that you, too, will find a book to read that wakes you up as this one woke me."

                                                                                                --The Children's Bookroom