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*Jack: The True Story of Jack and the Beanstalk* by Liesl Shurtliff - middle grades book review
Jack: The True Story of Jack and the Beanstalk
by Liesl Shurtliff
Ages 8-12 320 pages Yearling January 2016 Paperback    

The author of Rump: The True Story of Rumpelstiltskin has written another fairytale-inspired middle-school chapter book, entitled Jack: The True Story of Jack and the Beanstalk by Liesl Shurtliff. This fractured retelling, which combines the stories of Jack and the Beanstalk and Jack the Giant Killer, is narrated by a 12-year-old boy who was named after his great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather Jack--a legendary man who conquered nine giants.

Young Jack lives on a farm with his parents and younger sister, Annabella. They are hardworking farmers, but they live in fear because villages are being destroyed and people are being kidnapped and no one knows why. Some folks blame the weather. Others say it’s wild animals. A woman named Miss Lettice points her finger at Jack himself.

Jaber, the one-legged tinker, is travelling from place to place telling everyone the giants did it. And he points to the sky. “Looks like dirt. Going to rain dirt soon.” He warns them to run for their lives, but they don’t. Jack and his sister take his words to heart, though. When their own father goes missing they know where to go, “Above all that blue”.

The world of the giants is detailed in this story. Children reading this book will love imagining dandelions the size of trees and riding to the King’s castle on a mouse and cat. The characters are fascinating. The king eats gold. The bite of a pixie causes an explosion. Annabella is able to communicate with animals and insects. In this story, not all the giants are mean and repulsive. The giant named Martha treats Jack, Annabella, and their friend Tom like dolls. She celebrates with them (by eating gigantic cheese) and takes care of them like a parent would. The Queen giant, who almost had to give her baby up to Rumpelstiltskin, empathizes with the siblings’ situation, so she helps them find their father by confronting the King who is keeping him locked away.

This book also expands on the magic of the beans by making all seeds powerful and magical. They are associated with the hen that lays the King’s golden eggs, and they become the reason life can flourish again for the people above and below the clouds. After Jack and his sister rescue their father and reunite Tom with his dad, they are able to carry on and add to the stories about the one giant they conquered (he turns into a plant) and the hundreds of giants they helped.

I recommend this book to children who like their fairytales or adventure stories written with a bit of humor.
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