Book review: Clever Jack Takes the Cake

Have you ever tried to do something other people said was impossible, and then had to struggle through setback after setback? Jack and his quest to bring a fine gift for the princess’s birthday party is just such a story.

Clever Jack Takes the Cake, written by Candace Fleming and illustrated by G. Brian Karas is a fairy tale with a valuable lesson about optimism and perspicacity. This darling picture book deserves to be a classic, not just because of its plucky hero but also because of its luscious prose and charming illustrations.

In the story, Jack is excited to receive an invitation for the princess’s birthday party, and he is undaunted by his and his mother’s apparent poverty. Instead, he scrounges for ingredients for a birthday cake, a beautiful confection crowned with “the most succulent strawberry” in all the land. So far, score one for cleverness.

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It is not really cleverness that Jack needs from that point on, however, since he experiences setback after setback on his journey to bring the cake to the castle to present to the princess. Really, Jack is such a darling hero not because of his cleverness, but because he just keeps moving forward, always able to keep looking at the bright side of things, until at the very last, there seems to be no bright side left at all.

This is the kind of story I would personally love to be able to write. The author really draws the reader into identifying with Jack, and each obstacle he encounters just makes you feel even more strongly what he must be feeling.

The slowly disappearing cake is a very clever device on the part of the author, that makes you keep turning the pages, hoping that Jack will be able to get to the castle quickly enough to present his gift to the princess. The language is marvelously mellifluous. This is really a masterpiece of the craft, told simply yet with prose that practically sings.

Clever Jack is one of our favorites at home, one of the books that usually has to be read at least twice in a row in any given session. Highly recommended for children ages 3 to whenever yours are moving on from picture books.

Enjoy!