Candace Fleming  
 
   
Clever Jack Takes the Cake
  Schwartz & Wade, 
August 2010
978-0375849794
ages 4 to 8
 
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Clever Jack Takes the Cake
written by Candace Fleming
illustrated by G. Brian Karas


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Reader's Theater

Teachers' Guide

Take a bite out of this deliciously funny original fairy tale by a bestselling picture-book duo!

What would you do if you were invited to the princess’’s tenth birthday party but didn’t have money for a gift? Well, clever Jack decides to bake the princess a cake.

Now he just has to get it to the castle. What could possibly go wrong?

Candace Fleming and G. Brian Karas, creators of the bestselling picture book Muncha! Muncha! Muncha!, have teamed up again to bring us a modern fairy tale starring a determined boy and a story-loving princess with a good sense of humor. While girls will fall for a story featuring a princess’s birthday party, Jack’s adventures with trolls, bears, and gypsies make this the perfect read for young boys as well—and ideal for storytime.

Awards and Honors
Booklist Editors' Choice 2010
Kirkus Reviews Best Books of 2010
Parents' Choice Recommended Book
School Library Journal Best Books of 2010

Read the Reviews
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 enroute 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 winnerJoseph Had a Little Overcoat (1999), this standout picture book emphasizes resourcefulness and the power and pleasure of a well-told tale.

starK-Gr 3–A poor boy named Jack who helps a princess is a familiar trope in folklore. In this original tale, Jack accidentally receives an invitation to the princess’s birthday party. He resourcefully gathers ingredients and bakes a wonderful cake. On his way to the castle, the cake is slowly demolished by crows, a troll, a spooky forest, a dancing bear, and even a palace guard, until the only present Jack has to offer the princess is the story of the cake’s demise. Of course, this gift pleases her much more than the boring rubies and tiaras brought by richer guests, and she declares that her new friend will have the honor of cutting the royal cake. This entertaining adventure is packed with action. Karas’s scratchy gouache and pencil cartoon illustrations are as detail-rich as the text itself. From the sly bear to the bored princess, the expressions are priceless. The endpapers provide context not included in the text: a party invitation blowing from the messenger’s bag and under Jack’s door at the beginning, and Jack regaling a fascinated princess with more tales at the end. A solid choice for most collections, and a good storytime choice, despite the smallish illustrations.

starA winsome gouache-and-pencil landscape sets the stage—a hilltop castle, a messenger on horseback, an escaped letter fluttering under the door of a humble cottage. Young Jack, poor as dust, finds this mysterious missive—the king’s invitation to attend his daughter’s tenth birthday festivities. The boy bakes a cake for the princess, topping it proudly with the “reddest, juiciest, most succulent strawberry in the land,” and his obstacle-ridden journey to her party the next day forms the core of this jaunty, well-told tale. Of the whole cake, only the strawberry survives the trip past thieving blackbirds, a greedy troll, whispering woods and a ravenous-yet–fruit-despising bear. When the princess’s guard eats even that, however, all the perpetually undaunted Jack has left to offer the birthday girl is an elaborate account of his adventure. She loves it (and him) most of all, proving that the gift of story is better than rubies, especially if the story has a troll. The simple-but-expressive, cartoonish illustrations on textured paper and the delightfully clever design further distinguish this cheerful charmer.

starThe creators of Muncha! Muncha! Muncha! celebrate storytelling with a sparkling specimen of that very thing. Too poor to buy a birthday gift for the princess, Jack decides to make her a cake. He trades for ingredients, giving a hen seed for two eggs and kissing a cow for a pail of milk, and tops his confection with the “most succulent strawberry in the land.” Jack proudly sets off for the castle, but blackbirds, a troll, and a dancing bear devour parts of the cake. He remains upbeat, even when only the berry remains—to which the princess is allergic.

When Jack explains to the royal (who's bored by the jewels she’s received) what became of his present, she is delighted: “A story! ... And an adventure story at that! What a fine gift.”

Karas’s gouache and pencil illustrations have a folksy quality and match the understated emotions conjured in Fleming’s prose. With muted tones and subtle textures, the pictures capture the tale’s humor (the dancing bear wears both a fez and a sly expression as it does its “shuffle-shuffle-kick”) and Jack's earnest nature.

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