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Sunday, February 6, 2011

Clever Jack Takes the Cake, written by Candace Fleming and illustrated by G Brian Karas. Schwartz & Wade, Random House. $20.99 ages 4 and up

"Holding the cake proudly
before him, Jack continued
on to the castle. Before long
he came to the forest. No birds
chirped here. No squirrels
chittered. As if under a spell,
the entire wood lay silent,

This folktale was such fun to share on Friday with willing and attentive listeners. It is a great gift and we all loved the surprise ending.

Jack is a familiar name in such clever tales.  An invitation carried on the wind finds its way to his poor dwelling and Jack is up for the idea of attending the princess's tenth birthday party. His mother is apologetic, knowing the state of their affairs and that Jack has nothing to offer in the way of a present for the royal child. Jack is full of hope and determination. He finds a way to get the ingredients needed to bake a birthday cake, and proceeds to do just that.

The cake is a wondrous thing:

"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."

Proud of his efforts and determined to arrive on time for the party, Jack sets out for the castle. His way is wrought with scoundrels determined to 'take the cake' through selfish demands. When, at last, he arrives he does so with succulent strawberry in hand. As he joins the line and moves forward toward the guest of honor, a guard lets him know that the princess is allergic to strawberries and eats it himself. It is the final straw.

When Jack arrives at the foot of the royal throne, he has nothing to share but a tale of woe. After the many magnificently boring gifts previously given to her, the princess is delighted with Jack...the teller of an adventurous tale much loved by her royal highness. She asks Jack to help her cut the cake....and share it!

This action-filled story is accompanied by equally action-filled artwork, done in gouache and pencil by the incomparable G Brian Karas. He fills the pages with detail and expression. Read it once for the words and again for the illustrations...and then again to enjoy the whole experience. Be sure to take note of the endpapers as they add context to events prior to and following the celebration. Clever, indeed! 

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