CM . . .
. Volume XXI Number 21. . . .February 6, 2015
Jack, the King of Ashes.
Andy Jones. Illustrated by Darka Erdelji.
Tors Cove, NL: Running the Goat (Distributed by LitDistCo), 2014.
56 pp., trade pbk. & hc., $18.75 (pbk.), $27.95 (hc.).
ISBN 978-1-927917-01-5 (pbk.), ISBN 978-1-927917-02-2 (hc.).
Grades 4-6 / Ages 9-11.
Review by Harriet Zaidman.
Once upon a time, a long long time ago, in a tiny cove on a little island off a big island off an even bigger island, there was a widow lady who had three sons. Two were as good as gold – Tom and Bill their names were; but the other fella was a lazy bad o’ bones! His name was Jack and all he ever did was sleep in the coal box behind the stove. He never went to school; he never went to work. There was nothing they could do with him. When he was fifteen years old they say he finally got up outta the coal box, shook himself, and a half-barrel of ashes fell off him.
Every child should have a good measure of rollicking, silly stories in their early years of life to spark imagination and create pleasant memories. Later on they can come to realize these are folktales, with a connection to the history of their community or ethnic group, a connection that will add to how the stories are appreciated.
Andy Jones, one of Newfoundland’s most well-known and prolific artists (acting, playwriting, directing) has added children’s writing to his resume. Jack, the King of Ashes is Jones’ sixth adaptation of a Newfoundland folktale for young people. His other “Jack” tales are Jack and the Manger and Jack and Mary in the Land of Thieves.
Jack, the King of Ashes is a story that rolls along like the waves on the ocean, up and down, and the journey is unpredictable. Like all good stories, it collects people and experiences – good, bad, pleasant or tension-filled along the way, culminating in a satisfying and just conclusion, with all the strange quirks in the characters’ personalities and the plot finally explained.
Jones’ style is jaunty, bold and true to the Newfoundland dialect of English (“G’way, ya foolish gom,” “Who’d hire you, ya useless article?”) The dialect is part of the enjoyment of the story, easy to decipher as the story is read, assisted by the expressive illustrations by Darka Erdelji. Her drawings, slightly realistic and abstract at the same time, invite studying. They move the narrative along in an enjoyable way.
Jack is a strange lad, but, when he sets himself to find a missing princess and marry her, he leaves his coal-box behind. He shows pluck and wisdom that no one expected, least of all his bewildered mudder (translated: mother). Jack faces death and disappointment, but luck, wits and the bond of love help him win the day and the princess.
Newfoundland’s pattern of settlement – isolated maritime outposts, its poor Scottish-Irish fishermen/settlers and their legacy of story, myth, song, religion and superstition, have created a wealth of material that many artists and cultural institutions are working to record and maintain as the settlements have been abandoned and Newfoundland society changes. Jones, a member of the famous CODCO comedy crew, and many other artists are among those who have popularized it across Canada and around the world.
Indeed, part of Newfoundland’s wealth is the number of artists in many genres it has produced: Bernice Morgan, Wayne Johnston, Donna Morrissey, E.J. Pratt, Gordon Pinsent and more. Michael Crummery is a notable Newfoundland writer for adults, the author of Galore, a brilliant combination of the many tales and myths from outports and the unique culture they spawned.
Children from the prairies to the mountains to the Maritimes, first-generation to many-generation, should read tales of other cultures. Jack, the King of Ashes is a book they can enjoy with an adult (imitating the Newfoundland accent will make it an interactive experience) or read alone easily.
Harriet Zaidman is a teacher-librarian in Winnipeg, MB.
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