Jack: The True Story of Jack and the Beanstalk by Liesl Shurtliff
Reviewed by Matt Harmon
Grades 2+ • 350 pages
I read this to a group of 2nd-5th graders for the Read Aloud organization. It was a fun adventure tale, but couched within it are great lessons for kids regarding worth, value, and the nature of money.
In the story, the giant King, King Barf, covets gold above all else; he equates his massive gold stock with a rich kingdom. Yet, his people are suffering a famine due to crop failure. When the people complain to King Barf that they are poor and hungry, he dismisses their concerns because the kingdom has so much gold, so it must be rich.
This illuminates a fundamental principle of money—it exists to facilitate exchange, but it is not valuable in and of itself. What good is gold (or paper currency) if it cannot buy food? This is a lesson the world should have learned during the Great Depression, particularly France. Under the gold standard era, France increased its share of world gold reserves by 20 percent, in essence taking money out of the world financial system and leading to a massive deflation spiral. But I digress.
Jack and his sister Annabella save the day, with some help from the pixies, by turning the king’s golden eggs back into seeds that sprout plants. They took gold, which only has value in exchange, and turned it into crops which have value in use. My hat is off to Ms. Shurtliff for so elegantly illuminating key economic principles to children. Bravo!
Matt Harmon is a volunteer reader at Charleston Montessori School in Kanawha County.