Reading for Treasure

Teaching writing in a pirate supply store, in San Francisco.

At 826 Valencia, a purveyor of "pirate supplies"in San Francisco's Mission District, the grand joke is that pirate supply stores are commonplace. Its website bills it as the city's "only independent pirate supply store," as though the streets were overrun with competing big-box chains.If selling eye patches seems a strange front for tutoring adolescents in writing (the true mission of 826, founded by author David Eggers in 2002) that's sort of the point. "It's liberating," says store manager Anna Ura. Indeed, a huge tub of lard-apparently a pirate staple-goes far toward breaking down tired classroom codes. The purpose of 826 is to awaken in kids a sense of wonder about writing, and designer glass eyes ($25) and pirate dice ($1.75) are all part of the act. Adults seem to get a kick out of the place, too: The store attracts a steady stream of befuddled Valencia Street window shoppers.The San Francisco outfit is the first of a growing number of 826-affliated tutoring centers across the country. Like 826 Valencia, these centers do more than tutor in writing; they also supply accoutrements for budding superheroes, spies, explorers, monsters, and time travelers. And they all bear a common theme, central to the task of inspiring young authors. Your writing is just that: yours.LEARN MORE