Saturday, April 5, 2014

A Gentle Study of Jack and the Beanstalk {Notes on 16 Picture Books}

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Over the winter, our local library hosted Dreamtale Puppet's Jack and the Beanstalk.

Photo Credit: Diane Quaid and
My children enjoyed that table top puppet show so much that I decided to take a few Jack and the Beanstalk stories out of the library for a relaxed comparative picture book study.

The children, in turn, enjoyed the three or four stories that we initially had  borrowed so much that we decided to get more.  Before we knew it, our read aloud basket was overflowing with such stories and almost no day passed by without us cuddling up to read one or more Jack stories, to chat about how they were alike and different, to pour over illustrations, to discuss morality is it does and does not apply to Jack and the giant, to create our own Jack dramas and more...

In fact, by Lent,Jack and the Beanstalk had become such an everyday topic in our home that when the children were discussing ideas about what to give up for Lent they agreed one of the things our own little Jack might fast from was Jack and the Beanstalk books.  Yes, our youngest was so enamored with the growing collection of Jack and the Beanstalk stories that we had borrowed that he and his siblings decided it would be a great sacrifice for him to give them up for Lent.   (Those and his brother's favorite color of fruit-juice popsicles, which is a Sunday treat for the kids.)

So, our young Jack committed to fasting from his daily request for Jack and the Beanstalk stories, and we have not read another one since Lent began.  (I know, an odd fast, but I go with the kids' ideas...)

Now, as Holy Week nears, I am reviewing the notes I took about each Jack story as I decide which to borrow again for our young Jack to delight in after Easter.  As I do, I thought I would share brief comments on many of the books we read as they might inspire others to enjoy a relaxed Jack and the Beanstalk comparative book study.

The Giant and the Beanstalk was a fun story with engaging illustrations and connections to loads of nursery rhymes that contain characters named Jack.  Clever, engaging and a definite read and read again book.  We all loved how the giant was portrayed in a sympathetic light, how the author wove in allusions to so many other familiar tales and how there was a satisfying ending.  This one is one I'd get again!

The Giant Oak Tree: A Russian Fairy Tale and Also Jack and the Beanstalk (Once Upon a World) contains a Russian fairytale none of us had ever heard before, a classic version of Jack and the Beanstalk and a page of discussion questions/extensions.  We enjoyed this version and look forward to reading other Once Upon a World series titles.

Jack and the Beanstalk is a modern retelling of the story with clever photograph collage illustrations.  Because the kids and I love Nina Crews' imaginative photo-collages so much, we poured over this book many times.  However, I admit that while doing so we sometimes retold the Jack story with our own words rather than reading the one that is written as text for the book.  For although the text of this version of the Jack story has some value as a modern twist of the old tale, it simply is not one of our favorite versions.  The illustrations, though, they are!  Captivating, fun and inspiring my children's creativity.  (We enjoy Nina Crews' other books for her illustrations, too.)

Jack and the Beanstalk was one of our favorites as far as illustrations go.  Not only was the bag of gold, the golden-egg laying goose and the harp appropriately sized in this version (which is not the case in all Jack picture books), but each illustration was a simple feast for the kids and me.  We'll definitely be borrowing this one again!

Jack and the Beanstalk was one of my children's favorite versions of the story, I think, for its cute illustrations.  We also liked the way Jack problem-solved getting the heavy sack of coins down from the Giant's home and using the beanstalk as a catapult for the Giant.  We'll likely get this one out again!

Jack and the Beanstalk is a Jack version we actually own.  We got it free as a library discard and the copy we have, with its taped pages and loose binding, attests to how many enjoyed the book before us.  The colored ink, watercolor and acrylic illustrations in it are detailed and captivating (if, perhaps, a bit gruesome at times for the youngest, most sensitive readers, a stage my children are no longer in.)  The storyline is classic.  Children who are not easily frightened and love to dive into well-illustrated books will love this version of the Jack story.  (Mine do!)

Jack and the Beanstalk: How a Small Fellow Solved a Big Problem was a favorite for its awesome illustrations and clever ways that tiny Jack removed comparatively huge goods from the giant's home.  The author's notes at the and, which talked about the perspective of the illustrations, the inspiration for the clever engineering Jack gets up to in the story and more made the book even better.  Hands down, this is one of my favorite Jack stories and the kids loved it, too!

Jack and the Beanstalk (Usborne Young Reading) was perfect for our eight-year-old to read to his siblings.  Five short chapters, plenty of illustrations and "easy reader" type vocabulary helped our oldest boy sustain through reading the book.  While he did, I personally found the addition of a fairy at one point a bit out of keeping with traditional Jack tales.  However, I agreed with my children that the information she gave made it seem more fair that Jack took so much from the giant.  With the understanding that the Giant had killed his father,  Jack's thievery was a bit more palatable.  (Because I do not know about anyone else, but the idea of Jack stealing so much bothers me, classic tale or not.  Indeed, virtues, right and wrong played prominently in Jack story discussions here.)

Jack and the Giant: A Story Full of Beans has expressive, enjoyable, cartoon-like watercolor illustrations and giggle-inducing text.  The kids liked it, but, I admit, the golden cow chips and stinky Wild Bill breath mentioned in it are just not within my sense of humor.

Jack and the Seven Deadly Giants is more of a brief novel with illustrations than a picture book.  We got it out of curiosity and enjoyed reading about how young Jack, who had a reputation as an abandoned infant turned outcast bad boy in this story, struck out on his own and managed to outwit seven gruesome giants who personified the seven deadly sins.  A bit odd at times and with some brief potty talk of loud, odor emitting bodily functions, the book is still one we will likely read again as the children get older.  It opens some interesting opportunities for discussion.

Jack Outwits the Giants has no magic beans nor stalk, but is replete with clever ways that Jack outwits two giants.  This funny tall tale was a hit here both for its illustrations and its plot. I also liked that it encouraged us to broaden our discussions about trickster tales, comparisons, characters and the elements of plot as we compared and contrasted it to more familiar Jack stories.

Kate and the Beanstalk is written by one of our children's favorite authors, Mary Pope Osborne of the Magic Treehouse series and, of course, became one of Nina's favorite versions of Jack stories since it has a heroine instead of a hero and a happily ever after ending.  Luke and Jack liked this version, too, amused by Kate's disguises as she moves through the adventure of outsmarting the greedy giant and excited (or at least Jack was) by the mention of knights and castles.  We'll get this one again.
Paco & The Giant Chile Plant is the Jack-inspired picture book I would choose if I had to choose just one modern, cultural retelling of the story.  This version, set in the southwest is inspired by the traditional Jack and the Beanstalk story, yet does not simply retell it.  Instead, it takes readers on a heartwarming, positive adventure with eye-catching illustrations and wonderfully written text that weaves 16 Spanish words into English sentences, making it as worthwhile for gentle language studies as for cross-curricula English Language Arts, culture, art and virtues studies.  We will be reading this one again.

We borrowed Strongheart Jack and the Beanstalk because the children are so into knights these days as well as Jack stories.  We kept it through two renewal periods despite it being one of the longer versions of the story (and therefore one I was sometimes too tired to read in its entirety over multiple bedtimes) because the oil painting illustrations in it are superb and the storyline was well-fleshed out as a tale of action, change and justice.  Given the opportunity to borrow only a select few Jack versions, this tale would be one of the (but only for children who enjoy longer stories!)  I won;t be getting it again this year, but will in the future.

Trust Me, Jack's Beanstalk Stinks!: The Story of Jack and the Beanstalk as Told by the Giant (The Other Side of the Story) was an enjoyable read told with a sarcastic, first-person giant voice.  Colorful, engaging illustrations drew my children in.  A "Think About It" section, a brief glossary, a "Read More" etc. invited further learning and exploration.  But, given a choice of reading this book or
The Giant and the Beanstalk, I'd choose The Giant and the Beanstalk hands down.  The storyline, illustrations and opportunities to talk about values are simply better in it, I feel.
Waynetta and the Cornstalk: A Texas Fairy Tale is a silly, modern twist on the old Jack tale that features a heroine instead of a hero.  It inspired my children to think creatively about how to adapt the classic Jack story and is a cute worthwhile book to add to a Jack-inspired stories study.  That said, it was not one of the stories that the children asked to read and re-read and is not on my must-read-again list either.

Of course, I know there are more Jack and the Beanstalk versions we have yet to discover.  What are some of your favorites and why?  The illustrations?  The clever twists?  The lyrical language?  Do share!


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