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Clever Jack Takes the Cake Hardcover – August 24, 2010

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Editorial Reviews

From School Library Journal

Starred Review. Kindergarten-Grade 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. Heidi Estrin, Feldman Children's Library at Congregation B'nai Israel, Boca Raton, FL
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* 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 en route 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 winner Joseph Had a Little Overcoat (1999), this standout picture book emphasizes resourcefulness and the power and pleasure of a well-told tale. Preschool-Grade 2. --Gillian Engberg

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Product Details

  • Age Range: 4 - 8 years
  • Grade Level: Preschool - 3
  • Lexile Measure: 600L (What's this?)
  • Hardcover: 40 pages
  • Publisher: Schwartz & Wade (August 24, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375849793
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375849794
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 0.4 x 10.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #215,389 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

I have always been a storyteller. Even before I could write my name, I could tell a good tale. And I told them all the time. As a preschooler, I told my neighbors all about my three-legged cat named Spot. In kindergarten, I told my classmates about the ghost that lived in my attic. And in first grade I told my teacher, Miss Harbart, all about my family's trip to Paris, France.

I told such a good story that people always thought I was telling the truth. But I wasn't. I didn't have a three-legged cat or a ghost in my attic, and I'd certainly never been to Paris, France. I simply enjoyed telling a good story... and seeing my listener's reaction.

Sure, some people might have said I was a seven-year old fibber. But not my parents. Instead of calling my stories "fibs" they called them "imaginative." They encouraged me to put my stories down on paper. I did. And amazingly, once I began writing, I couldn't stop. I filled notebook after notebook with stories, poems, plays. I still have many of those notebooks. They're precious to me because they are a record of my writing life from elementary school on.

In second grade, I discovered a passion for language. I can still remember the day my teacher, Miss Johnson, held up a horn-shaped basket filled with papier-mache pumpkins and asked the class to repeat the word "cornucopia." I said it again and again, tasted the word on my lips. I tested it on my ears. That afternoon, I skipped all the way home from school chanting, "Cornucopia! Cornucopia!" From then on, I really began listening to words--to the sounds they made, and the way they were used, and how they made me feel. I longed to put them together in ways that were beautiful, and yet told a story.

As I grew, I continued to write stories. But I never really thought of becoming an author. Instead, I went to college where I discovered yet another passion--history. I didn't realize it then, but studying history is really just an extension of my love of stories. After all, some of the best stories are true ones -- tales of heroism and villainy made more incredible by the fact they really happened.

After graduation, I got married and had children. I read to them a lot, and that's when I discovered the joy and music of children's books. I simply couldn't get enough of them. With my two sons in tow, I made endless trips to the library. I read stacks of books. I found myself begging, "Just one more, pleeeeease!" while my boys begged for lights-out and sleep. Then it struck me. Why not write children's books? It seemed the perfect way to combine all the things I loved: stories, musical language, history, and reading. I couldn't wait to get started.

But writing children's books is harder than it looks. For three years I wrote story after story. I sent them to publisher after publisher. And I received rejection letter after rejection letter. Still, I didn't give up. I kept trying until finally one of my stories was pulled from the slush pile and turned into a book. My career as a children's author had begun.

For more information visit my website:

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Jack was sitting on a stump next to his table when someone slipped an invitation under his door. He was amazed when he saw it was from His Majesty the King. It was an invitation to the Princess's tenth birthday party and he was really excited until his mother said, "What a shame you can't go." Well, he didn't see why not, but she explained that they didn't have anything nice enough to give her nor money to buy anything. Jack, who was not to be undone by things like that, brainstormed and decided he was going to make her a marvelously grand cake.

He did a little bit of trading, coaxed the hen and cow into giving their donations, collected a few walnuts, sought out the best strawberry in the patch, and "he dipped candles." When he had all his ingredients gathered up, "he set to work, churning, chopping, blending, and baking." No doubt, it was the most beautiful cake in the land, but soon he ran into some problems as he tried to make his way to the castle.

Four-and-twenty ornery blackbirds swooped down and stole the walnuts from the top of the cake. Oh, no. Not to be discouraged, Jack kept on the path to the castle, proudly holding the remains of the cake. He met up with an ogre who demanded his share of the cake, he had to use the candles to make his way through the dark forest, and then there was that foolish bear. "Shuffle-shuffle-kick . . . G-U-U-U-L-P!" The only thing he had to offer the lovely princess was a strawberry because Samson, the bear, hated fruit and then a guard gulped that down. What was the princess going to think about someone who had nothing at all to offer her? Would they even let poor Jack into the party or would he be the laughingstock of the town?
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Z Hayes HALL OF FAMETOP 50 REVIEWER on October 27, 2010
Format: Hardcover
"Clever Jack Takes the Cake" is an engaging story that captivated my five-and-a-half year old daughter. Jack is a poor boy who lives with his mother in a run down hut. When he receives an invitation to attend the princess's 10th birthday celebration, Jack is eager to go but wonders, "What will he bring for a gift?" Luckily Jack uses his imagination and decides to bake the princess a cake (as to how he affords the ingredients, you'll just have to read the story! Let's just say Jack is indeed a clever little boy).

Well, Jack's cake turns out beautifully, and he leaves for the princess's castle, but encounters several things on his way - black birds, a troll, sinister woods, and a dancing bear - in the process the cake begins 'disappearing'! Will clever Jack have anything left to give the princess by the time he reaches the castle? This is a delightful little tale that focuses on imagination being put to good use, creativity, and friendship. It is quite an original tale with some familiar characters from other fairy tales, and has lovely illustrations that will engage young children's interest.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Steph Bryan on December 28, 2010
Format: Hardcover
My 6-year-old boy LOVED this book when I read it at bedtime, as did my 3-year-old twins. (The title of this review is an actual quote from my older boy once the book was finished.) The tale of poor jack and his hapless cake kept them all rapt with attention, smiling at the end, but visibly sorry when it was through. A true gem.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By TGL on December 30, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
(Sorry about the title, I couldn't resist.) I love this book. So much, in fact, that I when I recently had to leave town on business for a few weeks, I stuck it in my suitcase the way a kid would stow away a blankie. If you want to see what comprises a perfect children's picture book, consider this a benchmark. The story feels like a classic fable, but it's kid-friendly, with a determined, resourceful protagonist we can all relate to. The writing moves along smoothly with tasty descriptions and a lovely page of rhythmic, roll-around-in-your-mouth prose that's fun to read aloud. But more than anything, it's the design and illustrations that knock me out. Every spread is elegantly composed, with the type and illustrations woven seamlessly together in ways that make the story flow and give fun bits of visual punctuation at key points. And don't be fooled by the child-like style of Mr. Karas' illustrations. Though his technique is loose, the compositions and their effects are very sophisticated. From the drama of Jack being attacked by a bold pattern of flat-black crows to the whimsy of a bear spitting a strawberry across across two pages, each illustration is wonderfully constructed to bring that episode to life. The endpapers, which establish the setting, and wordlessly begin and end the story, are the icing on this delicious cake.
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Format: Hardcover
As the mom of boys, I am always looking for terrific fairytales that have nothing to do with a prince saving the girl. In Clever Jack Takes the Cake, Jack is determined to make the perfect gift but he doesn’t have any money. Instead, he throws all of his efforts into baking a cake. He’s already won my boys over with the fact that making a present can be just (if not better) than buying one.

Along the way, Jack runs into trolls, bears and gypsies. He has quite a serious adventure trying to make it to the castle. And little by little, his cake dwindles into nothing until he is left only with the strawberry on top. But the princess is allergic to strawberries!

Jack explains why he has shown up empty-handed; however, the princess believes he’s given her the best gift of all – a story. What could possibly be better than a story? A brand new friend, as well.

Both boys and girls will relish this tale, from the exciting journey to the realization that Jack gave the princess the one thing no one else had. With a heart-touching ending and Candace Fleming’s wonderful way of telling a story, you just can’t resist this book.(
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