From School Library Journal
Grade 2-6–When a pirate ship falls on hard times, Jack Plank is let go because he is not very good at plundering. Left in the Caribbean town of Saltwash, he has a bit of good luck to temper the bad. Eleven-year-old Nina, the daughter of the widow he boards with, offers to show him around the port town to find work. But at dinner each night, Jack reports to the other boarders his unsuccessful day. Trouble is, Jack is not well suited to be a farmer, baker, fortune-teller, fisherman, barber, goldsmith, actor, or musician, each for a different reason. For instance, he can't farm in the fields across the bridge because he once helped an ungrateful troll reposition itself under it. He can't take edibles from the sea because a shipmate once turned into an octopus and saved his life, and so on. These stories spin out, one each for eight days, at the end of which, the resourceful Nina comes up with the perfect job. Babbitt has a lively time with proper names (Leech, Snipe, Scudder, Old Miss Withers) and swiftly delineates character in short conversations at dinner. Jack's tallish stories make fresh use of familiar folklore motifs: a mummy seeking its missing hand, a mermaid who enchants a sailor, the fate of a feral child raised by seagulls. Babbitt's spare black line drawings introduce each chapter and give readers some indication of the person whose story Jack relates. Some of the tales, which beg to be read aloud, will leave listeners arguing about what really happened while others will make them grin. All in all, this is one treasure of a book.–Susan Hepler, formerly at Burgundy Farm Country Day School, Alexandria, VA
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
*Starred Review* Jack Plank enjoys being a pirate, but plundering is not what it used to be, and Jack is let go. The good-hearted fellow takes a room in a boarding house run by Mrs. DelFresno, a widow with an 11-year-old daughter, Nina. Each evening at the communal dinner table, one of the diners suggests a possible occupation to Jack, who replies that he and Nina discussed that very idea earlier in the day as they walked about the Jamaican port town. However, he has ruled out that particular
job, based on an experience that he proceeds to relate. The chapter "Not a Farmer" sets up the framework. Jack explains that he cannot work in the sugarcane fields, because it would involve crossing a bridge, which he never does for fear of meeting a troll. His mother's cousin's nephew once encountered a troll. Jack then obliges his fellow boarders by telling the tale in full. Written in a straightforward manner with touches of wry wit, Jack's stories unfold with the economy and assurance that readers expect of Babbitt. The book is reminiscent of The Devil's Storybook
(1974) in its episodic structure, timeless telling, and fine black-and-white illustrations. While even recent college graduates may take comfort in Jack's efforts to find his calling, this rewarding, episodic story is highly recommended for reading aloud in elementary-school classrooms. Carolyn PhelanCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved