Book: Jack Plank Tells Tales

Jack Plank Tells TalesJack Plank Tells Tales
Natalie Babbitt
2007 (Michael Di Capua/Scholastic)

Jack Plank was a pirate, but he just wasn’t fierce enough and when things got tight his ship had to let him go. Now he’s looking for work and a friendly woman who runs a boarding house and her daughter take him in, with the understanding that he will go out looking for work so that he will be able to pay for his room and board. The daughter is full of suggestions for Jack and every day the two of them go out to try out a different type of work. Everyday the experiment is a complete failure, but when they come back Jack is able to explain to the household (which includes various other guests) why he can’t be an actor or a farmer or whatever that day’s job prospect was. The tales are drawn from his life on the pirate ship and frequently contain an element of magic or the fantastical.

The stories Jack tells are really the highlight of this book. They are a riot and each is different. One of the biggest charms is that often you’re not quite sure how much of the magic could have been real and how much Jack might have imagined. The stories are also nicely not predicable (you aren’t even really tempted to try and predict anything). I really enjoyed reading them and kept thinking that this would make a great read-aloud book.

One of the things I liked most about the frame story of this book is that the boarding house Jack goes to is run by a single mother. She’s absolutely independent and her daughter is firmly of her own mind. Both are great strong female characters. I wouldn’t say that this is particularly a book where the gender images were very central, but I was pleased that when you did stop to look around at them what you found were strong, interesting, well-developed characters of both genders. It was never explained why Mrs DelFresno was without any visible husband (I would assume he was dead, but only because of the time period). Honestly, I never even wondered where he was until I got to the end of the book and started thinking about the characters beyond what Babbitt said. I thought that was great.

I really enjoyed this book. It was one of my favorite of the easier chapter books I’ve read this year. I would absolutely use it as a read-aloud and I might even use it in a classroom where the class was studying that time period just to give flavor and fun. It was a quick read and absolutely a blast! I highly recommend it!

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