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“To live the pirate life is to embrace adventure. The thrill of the hunt. The search [for treasure],” John. –Treasure Island: Runaway Gold

Treasure Island: Runaway Gold

by Jewell Parker Rhodes
AR Test, Teaches About Culture

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Three kids. One dog. And the island of Manhattan laid out in an old treasure map.  

Zane is itching for an adventure that will take him away from his family’s boarding house in Rockaway, Queens—and from the memory of his dad’s recent death. Some days it seems like the most exciting part of his life is listening to his favorite boarder, Captain Maddie, recount her tales of sailing the seven seas. 

But when a threatening crew of skater kids crashes the boardinghouse, a dying Captain Maddie entrusts Zane with a secret: a real treasure map, leading to a spot somewhere in Manhattan. Zane wastes no time in riding the ferry over to the city to start the search with his friends Kiko and Jack, and his dog, Hip-Hop.  

Through strange coincidence, they meet a man who is eager to help them find the treasure: John, a sailor who knows all about the buried history of Black New Yorkers of centuries past—and the gold that is hidden somewhere in those stories. But as a vicious rival skateboard crew follows them around the city, Zane and his friends begin to wonder who they can trust. And soon it becomes clear that treasure hunting is a dangerous business . . . 

Treasure Island: Runaway Gold reimagines Robert Louis Stevenson’s iconic book Treasure Island. While the books have a similar plot line, many of the original story’s details are changed. Treasure Island: Runaway Gold revolves around Zane and his three friends, who are searching for a lost pirate treasure. Along the way, they meet Captain John, who claims that he wants to help the kids find the treasure but doesn’t want a share of the prize for himself. Right from the start, many red flags show that Captain John cannot be trusted, and Captain John eventually betrays Zane’s trust. However, Captain John was clearly a villain from the start, so his betrayal feels anticlimactic.  

The first chapter jumps right into action and there is never any lull. Fast-paced action scenes dominate the book. Despite this, the book finds time to shine a light on how Black slaves were used to build Wall Street and other important Manhattan buildings. In death, many were buried in a graveyard. However, “colonists didn’t care about a Black cemetery. For centuries, folks kept building over and through their graves.” This historical information blends seamlessly into the story, creating a cohesive mystery that is tied to the pirate treasure.  

Readers who want a story with plenty of action and suspense will quickly be swept away by Treasure Island: Runaway Gold. However, the story’s fast pace doesn’t leave a lot of room for character development, the ending is rushed, and readers will be left with many questions. Despite these flaws, Treasure Island: Runaway Gold uses an interesting premise to teach about Black history.  

A few black-and-white illustrations are scattered throughout the book, which helps bring the events to life. In addition, the back of the book has a glossary of Zane’s skateboarding tricks and an Afterword that explains “how the [enslaved] Black people contributed to New York becoming the economic heart of the world,” as well as how “Thomas Downing, the son of enslaved people,” used his wealth to fund the Underground Railroad. Readers who want to learn more about the Underground Railroad should also read The Underground Abductor: An Abolitionist Tale about Harriet Tubman by Nathan Hale and Some Places More Than Others by Renée Watson. 

Sexual Content 

  • None 


  • Zane has a friend named Jack, who has an abusive father. Zane explains, “Since second grade, I’ve known the pattern. Dad home, Jack had accidents. Bruises, sprains. A black eye.” Later it is revealed that his father once broke Jack’s arm. 
  • Jack shows up at the skate park with “his body tilting left while his hand holds his side. Kiko says, ‘His dad still thinks he’s a punching bag.’ ” The conversation stops there. 
  • Zane gets home and finds, “it looks like a bomb has hit the dining room. Broken plates, shattered glasses, oatmeal, soft eggs, and crushed toast are on the floor. . .” Zane runs upstairs to find Captain Maddie “passed out cold.” Zane’s mother explains that skater kids and “that nasty boy came in frightening our guests, tearing up the place. Demanding to see Captain Maddie.” 
  • When the doctor comes, Captain Maddie, “is upright, flailing a small knife, slick with blood.” Captain Maddie dies. The doctor says, “The shock was too much for her. Probably an aneurysm.”  
  • During the night, the skater kids come back to Zane’s house. “Six skaters dressed in black, canvassing the house . . . Hip-Hop dives, racing across the grass, and bites someone. A scream. Jack is right behind Hip-Hop, punching right, left. . . Zane and his friends begin throwing baseballs at them . . . Some boys try blocking with their skateboards. Others limp away. Another runs. . .” 
  • Zane, Jack, and Kiko go to Manhattan to look for treasure. The skater crew swarms them. “Brave, ready for a fight, Jack sails into the gang, his board sideswiping other boards, his hands shoving, unbalancing the skater. . . A kid pulls Jack’s arms behind his back. . . [Zane] pull[s] the kid off Jack while Jack punches back at three kids trying to get a hit.” 
  • As the fight continues, “Jack gets pinned, his face against asphalt. I tug one kid off before I’m pounded in the gut and taken down.” At the end of the fight, “bloodred bruises cover his [Jack’s] face and arms. More, I know, are hidden beneath his shirt. He took the brunt of the beating. . .” The fight is described over five pages. No one is seriously injured.   
  • Zane and his friends are on a boat driven by John when the skater boys begin to “tail our boat, edging closer and closer, gunning, then leveling the engine. Almost like he’s going to ram us.” The skater boys’ boat gets so close that “a wall of water rises, slaps, and [Zane] topple[s] overboard.” 
  • John, Zane, and his friends sneak under a restaurant that was used to hide slaves. When men hear them, the men give chase. Zane describes, “The men are closer. Close. I’m not going to make it. . . I kick. The man grunts, stumbles back. . . Jack, beside John, is furiously pitching oyster shells. With a grunt, he throws his weight against a shelf filled with dusty jars, and jugs. The shelf falls, crashing, shattering glass and ceramic.” John, Zane, and his friends slip under the restaurant and escape. 
  • Zane and Kiko sneak into the old Woolworth’s building. A guard sees them entering an elevator and the guard gives chase. Zane shouts, “startling the guard, using my skateboard to whack his hand away.”  
  • One of the skater boys, Findley, grabs Hip-Hop and puts him in a sack. Matt, another boy, grabs Zane. Zane describes how Matt “twist[s] my arm. My knees buckle. He punches, kicks me. I crumple.”  
  • Kiko tries to help Zane. She grabs a cane and “like lightening, the cane flashes down on his arm, swings sideways—whack—slamming into [Matt’s] side. . . [Matt] dashing forward and back. Hopping left, then right. Feigning a punch. . .” Kiko uses the cane to smack Matt who “gasps, drops to his knees. He’s not unconscious, but it’s still a knockout . . .” The scene is described over three pages. 
  • In a multi-chapter conclusion, Jack reveals that when his father beats him, his mother “doesn’t defend me. Never did. Even when I was little, she said, ‘A boy needs to learn how to defend himself.’ When Dad started whaling on me, she left the mobile home.” 
  • John reveals that he is the lead of the skater boys’ gang, and takes Zane and Kiko to his secret hideout. John’s “first mate” Rattler makes sure Zane and Kido can’t escape. “Taunting, Rattler faces me as two pirates pin my arms beneath my back, roping my hands together.” Kiko is also tied up. Afterwards, Zane is hit occasionally. 
  • John’s secret hideout is under the city in an old, abandoned tunnel system. To search for treasure, John has his crew begin dynamiting the ceiling of a tunnel. “Gunpowder with wicks are driven into the tunnel’s sides, its unfinished ceiling.” Petey, who is about eight years old, is tasked with lighting the dynamite. When the dynamite goes off, “Petey tumbles. The torch arcs, twirls like a giant sparkler, landing on Petey’s back. . . Jack’s on it. Kicking aside the torch, he drops, patting Petey’s shirt, smothering flames. . . Petey groans. Beneath his shirt’s jagged burnouts, his skin is red, blistering.” Petey passes out and Kiko administers first aid. 
  • As the skater crew continues to set off explosions, the bones of the people buried there begin to fall. The kids are “tossing skeletons like ordinary sticks. . . ‘Look at this.’ A kid holds a skull and happily throws it to his mate.” Zane is upset that John and his crew are “disturbing graves.” 
  • John taunts Zane by saying, “Zane, a mama’s boy. Worse, a weak, whiny boy missing his dad.” Zane goes “berserk. I’m hitting, kicking, punching John. . . I fall flat, seeing stars. John slapped, shoved me.” When Zane and Kiko refuse to join John’s crew, they make them “walk the plank.”  
  • While in an underground abandoned subway, Zane and Kiko are forced to “walk the plank” which is an old pipe that is dangerously high. Kiko goes first and the crew begin throwing bones at her. “Findley lets a rib bone fly. Others throw rocks. Kiko wabbles, tries to duck low. Arms protecting her head, she shifts forward and back, side to side.” Kiko makes it across the pipe. 
  • As Zane walks the plank, “stones, skeletons fly. Rocks sail wide, especially from younger boys. Others bruise my shoulder and arm.” Zane makes it across the pipe. 
  • Zane and Rattler, one of the skater boys, duel it out by skating. After Zane has a good run, “Rattler leaps toward me, swinging his board at my head.” Kiko jumps in, “Knocking it out of his hands.” The fight ends. 
  • While in an underground tunnel, Zane, Kiko, and Hip-Hop find “hundreds of rats. Rats squeaking, running, crawling over one another. . . In his jaws, Hip-Hop snaps rat after rat. Shaking his head, he breaks their necks. He’s an efficient, killing machine. . . Hip-Hop has made a path—but it’s gross. Limp rats, blood. . .” 

Drugs and Alcohol 

  • Jack’s father spends his money on alcohol instead of food and bills. 
  • John tells Zane that his “best mate” was a woman who would “drink gallons of rum and never spend a day hungover.” 
  • While talking about the history of slaves being used to build Wall Street, John says, “I need a swig. . .Rum helps set the mind straight.”  
  • Jack says, “Alcohol turns my dad into a wild man. . .” 
  • At one point, John is “sauntering off-balance” because he’s drunk. He offers Zane a flask and says, “Rum cures a lot of ills.” 
  • When a young boy is burned, Kiko gives him ibuprofen. 


  • Occasionally, there is name-calling such as brat, loser, failure, jerk, and traitor. 
  • John opens an old trunk expecting to see treasure. When the trunk is empty, he yells, “Aargh. Damnation.” 
  • John calls one of the skater boys a “gutless swine.” 


  • Zane sees visions of the past. “Images like photographs. Now they seem like a silent movie. Figures move, stumble. I see a long line of shackled people, some stumbling, some wailing . . .” During the three-page vision, Captain Maddie shows Zane how slaves were used to build Wall Street.  
  • Occasionally Captain Maddie appears, but Zane is the only person who can see her ghost.  
  • Zane has a vision of Thomas Downing, a wealthy Black man who helped hide people who were escaping slavery. The vision guides Zane to the underground room where Thomas hid slaves.

Spiritual Content 

  • None 
Other books by Jewell Parker Rhodes
Other books you may enjoy

“To live the pirate life is to embrace adventure. The thrill of the hunt. The search [for treasure],” John. –Treasure Island: Runaway Gold

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