A Bean, a Stalk and a Boy Named Jack

Book review by
Jan Carr, Common Sense Media
A Bean, a Stalk and a Boy Named Jack Book Poster Image
Funny, fractured version of "Jack and the Beanstalk."

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Shows kids how a traditional fairy tale can be altered to create a new version. May inspire kids to try this with some of their other favorite tales. 

Positive Messages

The world is friendly, even when it seems scary. Go with the flow.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Jack is an easygoing sort who goes with the flow and by doing so saves the day.

Violence & Scariness

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that A Bean, a Stalk and a Boy Named Jack is by popular, prolific, award-winning author/illustrator William Joyce (The Numberlys, The Guardians of Childhood). This book is a retelling of "Jack and the Beanstalk," with a colloquial narration that's played for laughs. Joyce also plays fast and furious with the details of the original story. In this version, there's a beanstalk that leads to a world of giants, but the giant Jack finds there is a nonthreatening kid taking a bath, and the two have a friendly chat before Jack rides the stream of bath water back home. The plot is propelled by a drought in the kingdom, and the bath water resolves the drought. It's all in good, silly fun. 

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What's the story?

A BEAN, A STALK AND A BOY NAMED JACK starts out with "a smallish green bean" and "a smallish kid with the smallish name of Jack." When a drought plagues the kingdom, the king's daughter appeals to "the local old wizard guy," who uses some of his "magicking" to zap the bean. The bean instructs Jack to plant it, and soon there's a giant beanstalk. But in this version, when Jack scales the stalk, he arrives not at the home of a menacing giant, but in the tub of a giant kid taking a bath. No fee-fi-fo-fum scariness here! When the giant kid drains the tub, Jack and the bean ride the wave of water back down to the kingdom, and the torrent of bath water tumbles down with them, resolving the drought. Then Jack and the princess, whose name just happens to be Jill, go up a hill to fetch a pail of water.

Is it any good?

Kids who like their fairy tales fractured will have lots of fun with this one. Early on, the language signals that the book is for laughs: "Did it look like a bean that would make a difference? Did it look like a bean of destiny? HARDLY!"

Jack himself is described as "no great shakes." And the princess's name is "Princess Blah Blah Blah" -- at least until the end of the story, when she tells Jack, "But you can call me Jill," propelling them into another tale altogether: "Jack and Jill." Kids will enjoy being in on the joke.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the original fairy tale and how A Bean, a Stalk and a Boy Named Jack is different. Are you familiar with the original? Read a version of that one, too. Which story elements are the same? How is this one different?

  • How is the style of the narration in this story different from the style of a traditional tale? Can you find examples?

  • What would you do to save water if there was a water shortage where you live? 

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love picture books and fairy tales

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