Monday, December 13, 2010

Clever Jack takes the cake by Candace Fleming

Jack is poor but clever and when he gets an invitation to the princess's birthday party, he's determined to go, even though he doesn't have a present or the money to buy one. Instead, with lots of hard work, sacrifice, and a little cleverness, he bakes her the most wonderful cake.
Then he sets out for the party...but on the way, his cake disappears one piece at a time. When he finally arrives, he has nothing but a story to tell, which turns out to be exactly what the princess wants.
From an adult point of view, one wonders why a poverty-stricken peasant boy finds it necessary to give a present to the princess who is receiving gold, jewels, and tiaras. The invitation doesn't say anything about a present, but Jack's mother is quite sure he needs one - which turns out to be true, when the princess's first words are "and what have you brought me?" plus, if all the children in the kingdom are invited, they can't all be bringing gold and jewels - what are the other poor children bringing. But, of course, that's the adult point of view.
Children are unlikely to see the socioeconomic implications of the story. Yes, I spent too much time in college analyzing fairy tales, obviously. This completely original story has the cadence and elements that make folk tales so alluring to children. The rhythmic language, the building up of events to various conclusions, and the satisfying ending of the plot.

Karas' simple illustrations focus on Jack's feelings as he experiences a series of disasters, the princess's bored face, and the various creatures Jack encounters rather than the background, focusing the story on the different characters.
Verdict: This is a longer picture book, but because of the plot it will work fine even with very young children. Recommended.

ISBN: 9780375849794; Published August 2010 by Schwartz & Wade; Borrowed from the library.

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