Climbing the Beanstalk

Jack and the Beanstalk © Nina Crews. Published by Christy Ottaviano Books, Henry Holt Books for Young Readers.

I am so pleased that my retelling of Jack and the Beanstalk will be published next week! I started thinking about the story way back in 2004 and wrote my first drafts in 2006. It’s about time!

The visual possibilities excited me first. I loved the idea of a huge beanstalk curling into the sky past a brick apartment building.

Jack and the Beanstalk © Nina Crews

I then did a little online research and learned that that the story as I knew it was one of many possible versions of a basic sketch – a boy, called Jack, climbs a beanstalk and meets a giant. From there almost anything can happen. In the earliest English versions, Jack is simply a giant slayer, killing giants who terrorize Cornwall. In Victorian versions, Jack is often portrayed as a naughty, lazy, stupid boy in need of redemption. In recent years, the story has continued to undergo big changes – Jack has even become Kate in one notable example. With such a wide range of interpretations, I thought a contemporary Brooklyn take on the tale had possibilities, and then, out of the blue, I found a small article in the local newspaper about a boy who grew a giant beanstalk with some exotic beans that he’d found in a local store. I definitely wanted to explore this idea further.

Jack and the Beanstalk © Nina Crews

As I wrote, I had to resolve how to address two themes that loom large in this story – justice and a restoration of the social order. The giant is a thief and killer. Jack’s own stealing and killing are justified by the fact that the giant has either killed his father or has killed other young boys and threatens him. Was my Jack poor? Fatherless? A thief? Perhaps, I worried too much (after all nobody can truly climb a giant beanstalk), but I felt that if I was going to set this in the present then present day values had to come be considered.

Jack and the Beanstalk © Nina Crews

My Jack is not poor and his story is not a tale of vigilante justice. He is a curious young boy and the giant is a braggart. The giant is living the large caught up in the clouds. Jack gets his magic beans doing chores for his neighbor, and climbs up to the giant’s castle. Curiosity sends Jack up. And through his escape from the giant’s castle, he brings the giant “down to size.”

Jack and the Beanstalk © Nina Crews

There are risks and rewards in working with familiar material. I love the many versions of this tale and I enjoyed building my version from them. I also had fun making some big changes to the story. My hope is that readers will find this retelling a satisfying twist on well-known material.

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