Clever Jack Takes the Cake by Candace Fleming

clever-jackCindy: Jack tales have to be among my favorite folktales and when you have one written by a special author and combine that with a tribute to storytelling and feature dessert, you know up front how I will feel about this book! Clever Jack Takes the Cake (Random House/Schwarz & Wade, 2010) is an original picture book in the tradition of the great Jack tales. Birthday party presents are a dilemma for all children. Invited to a posh birthday party…what does one gift to the birthday girl or guy? Well, imagine Jack’s angst over getting an invitation to the princess’s 10th birthday party. He has nothing to give and no money to buy a gift but he doesn’t let that get in the way. He uses his trademark resourcefulness and trades and barters to get the ingredients to bake the most wonderful cake:

That same night, Jack stood back to admire his creation–two layers of golden-sweet cake covered in buttery frosting and ringed with ten tiny candles. Across the cake’s top, walnuts spelled out “Happy Birthday, Princess.” And in the very center–in the place of honor–sat the succulent strawberry.

But, as Jack tale fans know, nothing is ever simple for Jack. The trip to the castle is fraught with peril as each part of the cake is picked off by an animal or troll or other interloper on his trip. He finally arrives before the princess empty handed. Or is he? In the end, there is always story to save the day.

Oh how I love this book and its message about the value of things versus story. When you add in the delightful gouache and pencil drawings of G. Brian Karas, you have a delightful package. Candace Fleming, you are as clever as Jack. I lift a strawberry to you.

Lynn: Fleming’s delicious story of the steadily diminishing cake is an absolute treat for readers. Her clever text flows with the lovely cadence of classic fairy tales and is a delight to read aloud.

The road grew narrower. The trees grew thicker. The light grew dimmer. Soon it was so dark that Jack couldn’t see the cake in front of his face. “Turn back!’ the wind whispered. “Turn back!”

Aside from the fact the storytelling weaves an enchanting spell, the story also offers some terrific possibilities for discussion with young readers. Ask the audience to predict what will happen to the cake next. What will Jack do? Should Jack go empty-handed to the princess or should he just go home? Is Jack really clever or silly? We adults can’t resist a story where perseverance prevails!

The lesson never whacks readers over the head and both Fleming’s humor and the Karas’ charming cartoon-style illustrations increase the fun. This is a perfect book for reading snuggled together so children can peruse the pictures with all their clever details. One of my favorites is the drawing of Jack getting his initial idea and there is a candle floating over his head – it is the middle ages after all.

We had this book in galley so the focus group and I read it with the pages slipping and sliding away from us and it was so fun they didn’t care.

Hey Cindy, strawberries are great but the little boys and I will go you one better. We lift strawberry smoothies to Clever Jack!

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About the Author:

Cindy Dobrez and Lynn Rutan are Booklist reviewers and middle-school librarians who have chaired both ALA’s Best Books for Young Adults and the Michael L. Printz Award for YA Literature committees. Follow Bookends on Twitter at @BookendsBlog. You can also find Cindy at @cdobrez and Lynn at @482april.

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