PICTURE BOOKCLEVER JACK TAKES THE CAKE by Candace Fleming, illustrated by G. Brian Karas (Schwartz & Wade, 2010)
Jack is bringing a gift to the princess for her birthday, and he has it all planned out. Even though he’s broke, he’s going to make the best with what he has.
And that same mornning, he traded his ax for two bags of sugar, and his quilt for a sack of flour. He gave the hen an extra handful of seed in exchange for two fresh eggs, and he kissed the cow on the nose for a pail of her sweetest milk. He gathered walnuts. He dipped candles. And in the strawberry patch he searched…and searched…and searched until he found the reddest, juiciest, most succulent strawberry in all the land. “Delicious!” said Jack as he plucked it from its stem.
Wah-lah, all the ingredients for a perfect cake, with “princess” spelled out in walnuts, and away sets Jack for the castle, only to be hindered by four-and-twenty blackbirds, an ogre with a sweet tooth, a dark forest, a hungry dancing bear and a castle guard who informs him that the princess is allergic to strawberries. Finding himself at the front of the royal receiving line, what does Jack have left to give? A story of course, and one that knocks the princess’ royal socks off.
Candace Fleming is crazy versatile in her gift for writing, penning ambitious and well-researched historical nonfiction for kids (check out BEN FRANKLIN’S ALMANAC, THE LINCOLNS or my personal favorite, A BIG CHEESE IN THE WHITE HOUSE: THE TRUE TALE OF A TREMENDOUS CHEDDAR), picture books (like the clever and popular MUNCHA, MUNCHA, MUNCHA, done in collaboration with this same illustrator), a besides her special penchant for the historical, she has a flair for the folkloric (case in point: THE FABLED FOURTH GRADERS OF AESOP ELEMENTARY, which has a sequel, THE FABLED FIFTH GRADERS), proving she can juggle genres with the aplomb of the great Avi. But though all her books are consistently special, there is something especially flawless in this one, a chef d’oeuvre of sorts, even on an already heavy shelf of accomplishment. Her equally prolific illustrator, using his standard charming colored pencil and watercolor technique, has stepped up his game here, starting on the endpapers with a black cloud of foreboding forest and an almost romantic moonlit chat between the princess and Jack awaiting on the other side, with exciting variation of layout in between. Besides being a perfect marriage of text and art, this deceptively simple book is a pretty flawless read-aloud, inviting both attention and participation from the listener and should be a contender for the Geisel Award. It belongs on every child’s shelf, and is a must-have for starting fairy tale units and a sure-fire “read it again!” choice for the lap or the nap. Sweet and with just the right mix of storytime ingredients, just like a good cake, it rises to the occasion. (5 and up)
Also of interest:Another fresh nursery-tale take!
3 LITTLE DASSIES by Jan Brett (Putnam, 2010)
Inspired by a visit to Namibia in Southern Africa, three little groundhog-meets-koala-like creatures build their houses of driftwood, grasses and rocks while an eagle with young to feed looks on hungrily in this Three Pigs take-off. Amazing textile patterns and signature borders and frames delicately decorated with native patterns and samples from nature are especially graceful and dynamic, even for Brett’s consistently detailed body of work. The debonair and gallant Agama Man (a lizard), happy to have new neighbors, adds a new dimension of drama as he rescues the two terrified dassie sisters while the third fights off their enemy. Packed with eyebrow-raising excitement, this beautiful book emanates and inspires respect and awe for the African landscape, and ends with a pourquoi-tale twist that brings the fanciful story back around to the real world, with a symbiotic relationship between dassies, agama and the black-feathered eagles. This book reads like a treasure-box collected from travel, and is well worth the trip. (5 and up)
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