Clever Jack Takes the Cake

Clever Jack Takes the Cake by Candace Fleming, illustrated by G. Brian Karas

The creators of Muncha! Muncha! Muncha! return with a delightful fairy tale.  Jack is invited to the princess’ tenth birthday but has nothing to fine enough for a present.  But then Jack has a great idea, he will bake her a birthday cake.  He didn’t have enough money to buy ingredients, so he had to trade for them, work for them, or make them on his own.  Finally it was finished.  Two cake layers, frosting, ten candles, walnuts and a big strawberry.  Jack sets off to the party, but his way is not easy.  Blackbirds fly at him and steal the walnuts from the top of the cake.  To cross a bridge he has to give a troll half of the cake.  The candles are used up escaping a dark, frightening wood.  A bear eats the last of the cake, but not the strawberry.  So all Jack has to give the princess is the big, juicy berry.  But he still has to get into the castle and all the way to the princess.

When I opened this book, it was like returning back to a beloved tale.  Fleming and Karas have created a new tale with the soul of a classic.  From the premise of the poor boy taking a present to the series of disasters, readers will find themselves happily on familiar ground.  That is not to say that there are not surprises, there are and they are great fun!

Fleming’s writing is adroit, offer just the right amount of text per page, just the right amount of detail, and pacing the book perfectly for young listeners.  Her prose is a joy to read aloud, the phrasing fitting perfectly in the mouth.  This is quite simply a book that must be shared aloud.

Karas’ art is winningly done.  Jack’s mop of messy hair, his skinny frame, the dramatic moments of the birds, the troll, and the bear that have great perspectives.  He also plays with the background, washing the illustration of Jack’s home with a dull overlay, gradually blending from white to a warm pink when the princess enters the book.  All of the small details add up to a richness and charm that really add so much to this book.

A delight, this book must be shared to be fully enjoyed.  This is one that must be added to any story time or unit on birthdays, cake, or fairy tales.  But it should also become one of those books that you use any old time when you need a winner.  Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from copy received from Schwartz & Wade.