Clever Jack Takes the Cake

Book Reviews

Clever Jack Takes the Cake.

Fleming, Candace (author). Illustrated by G. Brian Karas.
Aug. 2010. 40p. Random/Schwartz & Wade, hardcover, $17.99 (9780375849794). PreS-Grade 2.
REVIEW. First published July, 2010 (Booklist).

Fleming and Karas, whose previous collaborations include Muncha! Muncha! Muncha! (2002), offer an original fairy tale that has the makings of a story-hour classic. Jack is thrilled when he receives an invitation to the princess’ birthday party, but he’s too poor to buy a present. Determined to make something instead, Jack trades his ax and quilt for flour and sugar, scrounges up more ingredients, and assembles a beautiful cake, topped with the “reddest, juiciest” strawberry in the land. Calamity strikes en route to the castle, though, and after run-ins with four-and-twenty blackbirds, a troll, a dark forest, and a dancing bear, Jack arrives at the party with only the magnificent strawberry, which a guard confiscates: the princess is allergic. After anxiously watching the bored birthday girl receive her presents (“Another tiara? How dull.”), Jack confesses that he has only an account of his day to offer. Luckily, the princess is delighted: “A story! And an adventure story at that! What a fine gift!” Fleming writes with rhythmic repetition and delicious word choices that lend themselves perfectly to dramatic narration, while Karas’ gouache-and-pencil art expertly amplifies each scene’s action and mood, and creates endearing characters in Jack and his new royal friend. Like Simms Taback’s Caldecott Medal winner Joseph Had a Little Overcoat (1999), this standout picture book emphasizes resourcefulness and the power and pleasure of a well-told tale. — Gillian Engberg

Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books:
Fleming, Candace.  Clever Jack Takes the Cake; illus. by G. Brian Karas. Schwartz & Wade, 2010.  40p.
Library ed. ISBN 978-0-375-95697-3.  $20.99.
Trade ed. ISBN 978-0-375-84979-4.  $17.99.   R  5-8 yrs.

Jack may be poor, but he’s determined to join the other children of the realm at the princess’ tenth birthday party. He therefore makes a luscious cake, decorated and decked with candles, for the birthday girl. Unfortunately, on the long trip to the palace, he’s beset by birds, a troll, a dancing bear, and a hungry guard, each of whom take a portion of the cake, leaving Jack facing the princess empty-handed—or so he thinks. It’s a little hard that poor starving Jack deprives himself for a frippery and goes back to scarcity at the end, but otherwise this is an amiable folktale-modeled adventure. Its traditional structure provides rhythm and clarity, and audiences will enjoy the cameo appearances from lore favorites such as four-and-twenty blackbirds and a lone bridge troll. Karas interprets this folkloric world through his own inimitable style; there’s actually a touch of game landscape to Jack’s winding path through the neatly spaced obstructions, and his homey, rough-hewn style adds a touch of accessibility to the magical fairy-tale world and tapestry-hung palace. The conclusion—Jack’s story of his adventures is the best gift of all—sets the book up conveniently as an entrée to a discussion of favorite stories and best gifts, even if listeners secretly (or not so secretly) think the princess would rather have had that cake.  DS

Horn Book Guide:
Fleming, Candace Clever Jack Takes the Cake
40 pp. Random/Schwartz & Wade 2010. ISBN 978-0-375-84979-4 LE ISBN 978-0-375-95697-3
(3) K-3 Illustrated by G. Brian Karas.
Invited to the princess’s birthday party, Jack, too poor to buy a present, bakes a cake. On the way to the party he encounters folklore-themed obstacles (e.g., an ogre, “four-and-twenty blackbirds”) and, in parts, loses the cake. Regardless, the humble gift he has left turns out to be more than sufficient. Karas’s signature gouache and pencil illustrations nicely complement the story.


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