Time Bandit captain reveals other talents with kids’ book

Aargh, matey, Captain Johnathan Hillstrand might be a rough, hard working Bering Sea crabber, but it turns out he’s got a heart of gold — and the heart of a kid. Johnathan and his brother Andy Hillstrand are the captains of the F/V Time Bandit, the Homer based crabbing boat that’s featured in the Discovery Channel’s Deadliest Catch reality TV show.

With the recent publication of “Adventures of Little Bird: Pirate Dreams,” Hillstrand shows a new talent: children’s book author and illustrator. Published by Peanut Butter Publishing, “Adventures of Little Bird” is on sale at the Homer Time Bandit store run by his mother, Joan Phillips. A T-shirt with Little Bird on it also is available and for a limited time is available free with purchase of the book.

“You’re supposed to be a tough fisherman,” Phillips said of her son. “It’s the other side of him.”

His art isn’t really a new talent, Phillips said.

“He always drew and made things out of clay,” she said. “In fact, he did cartoons for the school paper.”

It took a rough ride on a baby bull at a dude ranch in June to get Hillstrand back to drawing, he said. Laid up with four broken ribs in the hospital, he got colored pencils and a note pad and started sketching. His book is dedicated to that baby bull and his grandchildren, Tiana and Sawyer.

“My mom wanted me to illustrate a kid’s book,” Hillstrand said. “One thing led to the next.”

Drawn in a whimsical, simple style, “Adventures of Little Bird” tells the story of a parrot, Little Bird, who asks his parents if he can be whatever he wants to be. They tell him yes, and so Little Bird sets up to fulfill his dream of being a pirate. Its message is simple.

“No matter what you want, if you put your mind to it, you can be what you want to be,” Hillstrand said.

The book has some Deadliest Catch jokes and references, like Sig the Starfish, a reference to Captain Sig Hansen of the F/V Northwestern, another Deadliest Catch boat. Sig Starfish has a sister who was a star on Hollywood Boulevard who “got tired of people walking all over her, though.” The pirate captain is named Don Task, but the name on his hat says “Don’t Ask.”

“It’s kind of fun, even for adults,” Phillips said.

Hillstrand has already finished a second Little Bird book, “The Adventures of Joey and Andy Crabs,” and is working on a third one, tentatively titled “A Pirate’s Treasure.” As he’s been drawing, Hillstrand said the art he set aside for 30 years has started to come back.

“My characters are coming alive,” he said. “They’re way more animated.”

All his books have basic morals, Hillstrand said. 

“Kids need to learn values,” he said.

For example, in “A Pirate’s Treasure,” the characters go off searching for riches and find the greatest treasure of all.

“It’s the people who love you,” Hillstrand said.

Reviews posted on the Time Bandit website have been generally positive, Phillips said. “The book was heart-warming and fun,” one reader said. “The illustrations are wonderful and memorable,” said another.

Hillstrand said he looks forward to working on his books when he heads out for crabbing soon.

“I’m having a lot of fun,” he said. “That’s what matters.”

Michael Armstrong can be reached at michael.armstrong@homernews.com.