Fee, fi fo fum! I smell the blood of an Englishman! These words are well known by children and adults familiar with the traditional story of Jack and the Beanstalk. Fearsome Giant, Fearless Child, written by Paul Fleischman and illustrated by Julie Paschkis, is the tale of Jack told from a multicultural perspective. Fleischman collects sixteen different tales of Jack from around the world; Norway, Denmark, Russia, England, Mongolia, Germany, France, Greece, Italy, Gambia, Chile, Japan, the Philippines, Indonesia, Ethiopia and the United States of America and weaves them all into one tale. The story is beautifully illustrated by Julie Paschkis in vivid colors and drawings that reflect the individual cultures presented in the text.
4th graders say:
“I like how the story comes from all different places.”
“It was cool that all of the different cultures told the same story!”
“I liked seeing how all of the pictures looked like the different cultures.”
“Where is the Irish one?”
“I got a preview into how Jack might act in Mighty Jack.”
“Both Jacks are brave.”
“I love how this story connects to Jack in Mighty Jack.”
Graphic novels are very popular in the middle grades and are included in many students’ book bags. As I prepared to begin a unit of study on “how to read a graphic novel,” I read, “Fearsome Giant, Fearless Child to fourth graders. Many children were familiar with the traditional English tale and were excited to see how this tale would connect to our new interactive read aloud, Mighty Jack, by Ben Hatke. Making inferences and drawing conclusions while “reading the pictures,” is a vital skill when reading a graphic novel and it was just as important when reading the illustrations by Julie Paschkis. There was a great discussion about how the many different cultures conveyed the same story but with subtle differences. By reading this story, students developed a unique schema about the character Jack and were able to make connections with both Jack characters before, during and after the reading of Mighty Jack. This was a very powerful experience for many readers, particularly those readers who were not as familiar with the original Jack of Jack and the Beanstalk.
The use of fairy tales from other cultures is a great way to reach many different readers, share cultures and inspire readers to seek out other texts to compare and contrast about one topic. The lesson opportunities are endless!