Book review – Jack: The True Story of Jack and the Beanstalk

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.



Book Reviews: Early Grades


RedwoodsRedwoods by Jason Chin. School Library Journal recommends this title for grades 1 to 4. While cataloged as nonfiction, this book is an inventive blend of fact and fantasy. It follows the adventures of an unnamed boy who finds a book about redwoods on a subway bench and is transported to a redwood forest. Be sure to pay attention to the illustrations when reading this book! See a preview.

— Terri McDougal, Head of Children’s Services, Kanawha County Public Library


Georgia in HawaiiGeorgia in Hawaii: When Georgia O’Keeffe Painted What She Pleased by Amy Novesky and illustrated by Yuyi Morales. School Library Journal recommends this title for K-4. Having recently presented a series of children’s programs about Georgia O’Keeffe, I can assure you that most children have never heard of this famous artist. I find that books such as this are a wonderful way to share knowledge about O’Keeffe without overwhelming children with details. I like that both this title and Through Georgia’s Eyes by Rachel Rodriguez (which I have also read to students) are also illustrated in similar styles to O’Keeffe’s artwork.

— Terri McDougal, Head of Children’s Services, Kanawha County Public Library


Just Behave, Pablo PicassoJust Behave, Pablo Picasso! by Jonah Winter and illustrated by Kevin Hawkes. School Library Journal recommends this title for grades 2-5. While there are a handful of children’s books about O’Keeffe that make good read alouds, there are even fewer read aloud titles about Picasso. This one, however, fits the bill by introducing Picasso as a man and an artist that defied his critics to create his own style of art, time after time. While cataloged as a nonfiction book, the text and artwork seem like a picture book.


Boycott BluesBoycott Blues: How Rosa Parks Inspired a Nation by Andrea Davis Pinkney.

“With glowing, dramatic double-page spreads and a clear rhythmic text,
this large picture book tells the inspiring story of the Montgomery bus
boycott,” says Booklist. We pair this one with Rosa by Nikki Giovanni.

— Raleigh County Read Aloud


RosaRosa by Nikki Giovanni. The story of Rosa Parks’ life provides an entry into a summary of the Civil Rights movement.

— Raleigh County Read Aloud





Troll Country by Edward Marshall, illustrated by James Marshall.

A girl has a book that tells all about trolls, but her mother has actually met one. So the girl heads deep into the woods to find a real troll.





 0-439-92950-4Cabin Creek Mysteries: The Secret of Robber’s Cave by Kristiana Gregory. Two brothers set out to explore an overgrown and misty island. There are clues and cliffhangers and a storyline that spans the series.

— Raleigh County Read Aloud




Auntie ClausAuntie Claus by Elise Primavera. Plenty of chic New York style, holiday intrigue and magic mark this story of Sophie, and how she grows more sophistocated one remarkable Christmas.

— Dawn Miller, RAWV Advisory Board



Abe Lincoln's DreamAbe Lincoln’s Dream by Lane Smith.

What if President Lincoln’s ghost walked the White House today? What would he think of what he sees? A serious, yet humorous book, with plenty of hope.

— Dawn Miller, RAWV Advisory Board




Wiley and the Hairy ManWiley and the Hairy Man by Molly Bang. In this adaptation of an American folktale, young Wiley and his dogs go into the swamp to cut some bamboo for a hen roost. His mother warns about the Hairy Man. If you outsmart him three times, he can no longer bother you.




Abraham Lincoln Comes HomeAbraham Lincoln Comes Home by Robert Burleigh. After President Lincoln was assassinated in 1865, for 13 days, his funeral train made its way from Washington D.C. to Springfield, Ill. It evokes deep feelings among grieving Americans, including a young boy experiencing a time of great change. Stunning paintings by Wendell Minor.

— Raleigh County Read Aloud


CelebritreesCelebritrees: Historic & Famous Trees of the World by Margi Preus and Rebecca Gibbon. School Library Journal recommends this title for grades 2 to 4. This factual book introduces readers to 14 different historic trees from around the globe. Each tree is described on one page, so this is perhaps not a book to be read aloud at one time so much as a “filler” to read one or two pages from at the end of your Read Aloud session.

— Terri McDougal, Head of Children’s Services, Kanawha County Public Library


MoonshotMoonshot by Brian Floca. Well-researched and technically accurate illustrations bring the story of the Apollo 11 mission to the moon vividly to life.

— Raleigh County Read Aloud




One HenOne Hen: How One Small Loan Made a Big Difference by Katie Smith Milway. After his father dies, a boy in Africa has to quit school and help his mother gather firewood to sell, until his mom gives him a little money. The money is a bit of a loan from the neighbors. The boy buys a hen, and in a year, has a thriving flock of birds and then a farm.

This book is inspired by a true story in Ghana and introduces the concept of microfinance.

— Raleigh County Read Aloud


About our contributors:

Terri McDougal is director of children’s services at the Kanawha County Public Library and a board member of Read Aloud West Virginia.

Dawn Miller is editorial page editor of the The Charleston Gazette-Mail, a 20-year Read Aloud West Virginia volunteer, and a former chair of Read Aloud’s board.