Sarah Ellis, Author, Bruno St-Aubin, Illustrator , illus. by Bruno St-Aubin. Groundwood $14.95 (84p) ISBN 978-0-88899-529-2

Told with the outsize zest of a tall tale, this vibrant, well-crafted novel starts strong and gets even better. Raised in the Opportunities School for Orphans, the plucky and resilient Jack gets a chance to prove himself as he turns 12, when he is outfitted with an apprenticeship (and his first pair of long pants). First, though, in this tale's characteristic balance of wit and poignancy, he trains the new scullery boy to avoid beatings from the cook ("The secret is to make Cook go sad.... He cries. Huge big tears.... Then he sits in his chair and goes to sleep"). But when Jack's job with a bookkeeper disappoints (he imagines he'll be "sitting at the door in a tidy uniform, keeping the books safe, dry and warm"), he decides to take his luck on the road, armed with little more than his ragged, incomplete dictionary ("A sunrise was better when you knew the word sublime," he believes). In a clever twist, Jack sets himself up at a town fair as a vendor of "thoughts, concepts, plans, opinions, impressions, notions and fancies," and bored villagers snap up his product. Ellis (Out of the Blue) sends a timeless message—about the values of believing in one's own visions, of a positive outlook and similar—and the details she uses are fresh and fun, her language supple and refined. Readers will want to tag along with Jack on his several adventures. Final artwork not seen by PW. Ages 7-10. (Sept.)

Reviewed on: 08/11/2003
Release date: 06/01/2003
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