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Sunday, May 10, 2015

Jack: The true story of JACK & THE BEANSTALK, written by Liesl Shurtliff. Alfred A. Knopf, Random House. 2015. $19.99 ages 8 and up

"Where's the fun in that?" Tom seemed perplexed. "No elf has ever traveled by catapult before! You should feel honored." I cracked a smile. I had to admit that it was fun. I also had to admit that I liked Tom quite a bit. Maybe he didn't understand what it was like to lose your papa, but he was exactly the friend I'd always wished for back home, someone who liked big adventure and a little mischief."

There is a lot to love about this refashioned fairy tale! As she did in Rump
(Knopf, 2013), Liesl Shurtliff uses her many storytelling skills and a host of Jack stories to write this book about love, bravery and rescue.

Jack has heard all the stories concerning his seven-times-great-grandfather, known to all as Jack the Giant Killer. Even so, when the giants come out of the sky, booming and pillaging, it is a surprise to all. By the time they have finished, the giants have destroyed everything in their path and taken many of Jack's friends and neighbors and their houses with them, including Jack's father.

That alarming visit sets up the action for  the rest of the story. Following in his grandfather's footsteps, Jack vows to do battle with the giants, find his father and bring him home. It is only possible when Jack gets the beans to grow the beanstalk outside the family home. Now, he has a way of getting to the land where those giants live. Little does he know that his little sister, Annabella, is  on the same mission. Frightened for her safety, he is also in awe of her ability to pacify animals and become friends with the pixies whose poisonous bites cause great pain for her brother:

"I looked down and yelped. My left leg had ballooned to twice the size of my right. It was more like a log than a leg. The pixie bite. In the mad rush and my anger at Annabella, I had forgotten all about it, but now that I noticed it, my brain registered a sharp pain shooting from my hip down to my toe. My foot was swelling fast, too, stretching the leather of my shoe. I scrambled to pull it off and watched my foot become as round as a ball with five fat knobs at the end."

Annabella acts as a go-between for Jack and the pixies, and she is not the only one who wants to help Jack find his father. Despite his sadness over having lost his own father, Jack's new friend Tom Thumb wants to help look for Papa.  The kingdom belongs to King Barf and is enduring a dreadful famine. King Barf is extremely greedy and using magic to garner as much gold as he can, while leaving no sustenance in the ground for things to grow and thus, feed his people.

Cleverly written to include other fairy tales and even some nursery rhymes, Ms. Shurtliff offers her readers adventure, terrific characters, and a story that is sure to keep them reading first page to last. Fun for a family bedtime read, or as a classroom readaloud.

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