She's back! After 25 years, Natalie Babbitt, the author of the modern classic Tuck Everlasting and the Newbery Honor book Kneeknock Rise, has written another superb novel for children. In Jack Plank Tells Tales, a pirate, who is adored by his shipmates yet doesn't have the knack for plundering, is let go from the Avarice. The crew hands Jack a bag of gold florins and drops him off at the port of Saltwash on the island of Jamaica.
The out-of-work pirate seeks lodging at a boarding house run by the widowed Mrs. DelFresno. Although his former profession is obvious, she agrees to allow the likable fellow to stay for a week or so, while her 11-year-old daughter, Nina, promises to help him find the perfect job. Every day Jack considers a new trade farmer, baker, barber, goldsmith and musician but back around the table at suppertime, he explains to his fellow boarders why each job does not suit him. Each explanation leads into a rousing story from his days at sea. Jack could never be a farmer, for instance, because he'd have to cross a wooden bridge to reach the sugarcane fields. Like his shipmate and cousin, Lugger, who wanted dry land under his feet for a bit, he may encounter an ugly troll. Being a musician is out of the question as well, since Jack doesn't have the talent of his shipmate, Waddy Spontoon, who could beguile crocodiles with his flute. Just when Jack is ready to move on, his new companions help him see his true gift and a profitable future in storytelling.
While some of Jack's yarns conclude happily, other open-ended, thought-provoking tales inspire imaginative conclusions on the part of the reader. Enhanced with lively black-and-white sketches, all of the stories trace back to the author's longtime interest in folk and fairy tales. Pirate stories never cease to entertain and amaze children. Combining Jack's distinct, amiable voice with the possibility of magic and the unknown, neither does Natalie Babbitt.