Jack Plank Tells Tales
Title: Jack Plank Tells Tales
Author: Natalie Babbitt
Jack Plank, a pirate who is no good at being a pirate, searches the town of Saltwash for another profession, but manages to find something wrong with every suggested job.
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.