Donald B. Dewar,
Jack's Dad & the Beanstalk
(iUniverse, 2005)

Jack's Dad & the Beanstalk is a very interesting novel that offers a modern-day spin on the classic Jack & the Beanstalk fairytale.

Donald B. Dewar originally came up with the tales of Jack's Dad in the form of bedtime stories for his own children, and then the story evolved as his children grew older. The final result is something significantly more than a modern retelling of a legend; it's a combination of fantasy, history, travel and sociology that is as informative as it is entertaining. One of the author's stated aims is to bridge the communications gap between adults and teens, and I think this book has the capacity to do that -- although the insertion of modern-day issues into the narrative does tend to interrupt the flow of the story when it occurs.

This is really two stories in one. It's a first-person account of a college student engaging in some unique research work over the summer, and it's also the first-person account of a man who lived and traveled over half a millennium ago. Sonny is the college student, who satisfies his need to get away for a while by landing a summer job working on an archaeological dig in Scotland under Professor Walter Davis. The excavation reveals what might be the house of a giant, but the most exciting finds are actually made elsewhere, at a local pizza restaurant. During a renovation, the restaurateur discovers several canisters of sealed scrolls hidden behind the walls of the kitchen. These scrolls, which seem to date back to the late 1400s, tell an incredible tale -- the personal account of a man named Tom Cook who suffered at the hands of giants but went on to chronicle a series of marine voyages that, if true, would rewrite the history books. This Tom fellow was also the father of Jack, who became famous himself as Jack the Giant Killer.

Professor Walt and his gang of research assistants work on translating the scrolls and trying to ascertain the truth of Tom's amazing story. Everything seems to check out, and there is even a strong connection between the chronicle and a major discovery made at the dig site. The importance of the discovery is further reinforced by the fact that someone apparently has an active interest in keeping the long-hidden history from coming to light -- a number of suspicious activities, including burglary attempts, take place, leaving everyone involved suspicious of at least some of his/her co-workers.

Tom's story is the more fascinating one because it is rooted in the distant past and chronicles an adventure that takes Tom around the Cape of Good Hope (before Bartolomeu Dias accomplished it in 1488), up through the Spice Islands and on to China, down to New Zealand, back to Zanzibar and Eastern Africa, and finally back home again. Dewar gives us a captivating look at what such previously undiscovered places may have been like so many centuries ago.

As alluded to earlier, Dewar has used the format of this story to talk to his own growing kids about modern-day issues of importance. At one point, Professor Walt and his helpers find their conversation turned to the subject of modern terrorism, for example. By tying in modern events to those of the past, this literary technique does have some potential for getting adults and teens talking about important issues of the day.

Much of the stuff of legends is derived from actual facts, and it is interesting to see how the story of Jack & the Beanstalk could have developed, through exaggeration, from events that are easily explainable -- even Jack's climb up the beanstalk to the house of a giant with a magic harp and a goose that lays golden eggs. As interesting as it is entertaining, Jack's Dad & the Beanstalk is a novel that parents, teenagers and children can enjoy separately or together.

by Daniel Jolley
4 February 2006

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