Monday, February 22, 2016

REVIEW: Jack -The True Story of Jack & the Beanstalk by Liesl Shurtliff

The True Story of
Jack & the Beanstalk
by Liesl Shurtliff
Alfred A. Knopf
Middle Grade
4/5 stars

The same author who brought us Rump (check out my review for that!) endeavors to tell us what really happened in Jack & the Beanstalk -and it's just as fun as her first book.

Jack is a farm boy with big plans. He is destined to be Great. Papa told him so. The Jacks of their family have always gone on to do big and important things -just look at his great-great-great-great-great-great-GREAT grandfather Jack, the Giant Killer. Raised on the stories of his heroic patriarch, Jack is determined to live up to his Great name and slay some giants of his own. When the giants break through the sky and steal the farm, the animals, and his Papa away, Jack will have to discover whether he'll be able to live up to the Greatness.

The retelling is as clever as it is fun. Shurtliff adds elements of other fairy tales into Jack's, intertwining Tom Thumb and Thumbelina, and even sprinkling references to The Elves and the Shoemaker and There Was An Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe. Technically a companion novel to Rump, rather than a direct sequel, Jack's tale takes place in the same world. The connections Shurtliff made between the two stories are particularly brilliant. Each chapter is headed by an excerpt from the tales of Jack the Giant Killer, our Jack's so-many-greats grandfather, which is an interesting way to bring the two stories together. 

While Jack searches for his Papa, he explores more of the giant world and begins to realize there's a bigger problem. Weaving all these stories together, Shurtliff gives me the perfect excuse to use a favorite gif. Greed -and magic- come with a price, you know.

As before, Shurtliff weaves a quirky tale against a backdrop of an almost-familiar fairy tale land setting. Jack is an adventurous boy determined to fulfill the destiny he believes his name bestows on him. He's no stranger to the odd bit of mischief, either, especially if it involves sneaking grasshoppers or frogs into the pocket of his annoying little sister's apron. Told in the first person, Jack's personality makes the narrative entertaining and compelling.

I especially loved watching Jack's development through this story. A cocky, self-assured boy tackles huge hurdles with ingenuity, but we realize he's still just a boy, and there's that low part of the book where he realizes it, too. His journey, especially in his relationship with his sister and in dealing with the question of 'what can one boy do?', grabbed me with its genuineness. Kids are going to love relating to Jack.

While it doesn't have a beat-you-over-the-head moral, Jack learns important lessons and experiences that will be easily translated into every day life. JACK wasn't only a fun book, it's also Aunt Approved.

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