Kimmel, Eric A. 2012. Jack and the Giant Barbecue. Ill. by John Manders. Tarrytown, NY: Marshall Cavendish Corporation. Print. ISBN 9780761461296.
2. Plot Summary
In this Southwestern retelling of “Jack and the Beanstalk,” barbecue-obsessed Jack seeks to reclaim a barbecue recipe book from a thieving giant who dwells in the clouds. Jack encounters a giant-sized talking jukebox that helps him escape the angry giant and make it home safely. Chasing Jack, the giant falls through a hole in the cloud, inexplicably doesn’t die after crashing to the ground, and then has a change of heart and helps work at the barbecue joint Jack opens with his mother.
3. Critical Analysis
This tale stays (mostly) true to the nature of character types presented in the traditional telling of “Jack and the Beanstalk.” Readers encounter the good hero, Jack, who seeks to right the wrong done when the giant stole the recipe book. While Jack’s character is believable and relatable, the giant is lamentably less so. The giant’s character relies too heavily upon the redneck stereotype to establish his evil nature, which necessitates the presupposition that rednecks are bad people. The giant also does not stay true to the static nature of characters in folk tales; evil people stay evil, good people stay good. At the end of the story, the giant has a completely unexplained change of heart. He goes from chasing Jack to recover the recipe book and jukebox to working for Jack at the barbecue joint.
Although the story’s supposed theme is that of good conquering over evil, one must wonder if the giant actually is evil. The only time the giant himself comes across as evil is when he sings a song threatening to eat Jack. Threats, however, are all we hear from him. Nowhere in the story does the giant do anything truly despicable that could not be explained simply. If the giant is not evil but merely misunderstood, is this truly a story of good versus evil?
The story’s familiar plot contains a good mix of action and detail. Characters do things, but the rich details bring the story to life. Despite this, the story is not satisfying. The reader is left asking, “Is that it? That’s the end?” There is no sense of completion at the end of the story.
Set vaguely in “West Texas,” Jack and the Giant Barbecue gives a wonderful depiction of the openness and beauty of the Texas desert. Additionally, the end of the story provides an “explanation” of why West Texas and the rest of the desert is so flat – the “giant pickup roared through the clouds and smashed all the mountains in West Texas flat. Since then, West Texas has been flat as a skillet all the way to New Mexico” (28).
The rich language begs the story be read aloud. The descriptions paint wonderful pictures before hearers, even when unable to see the beautiful illustrations. The illustration style reminds me of the style frequently used in movies when characters themselves tell stories. An early reader would be quite capable of following this story through the illustrations alone, making this story a good choice for early or struggling readers, as well as English language learners.
Although an argument can be made that Kimmel is not attempting to represent current Texas culture, this story feels based entirely upon stereotypes. If one were to base their knowledge solely upon this book, a reader would believe that Texans eat only barbecue, wear only cowboy or redneck clothes, drink only sweet tea, ride horses or drive beat up pickup trucks, and listen only to old country music. While many Texans do indeed enjoy these things, Texas is a diverse state, even in West Texas. Jack and the Giant Barbecue is merely another in a long line of books and movies to misrepresent Texas by buying into an outdated stereotype.
4. Review Excerpts
From School Library Journal: “Though youngsters may miss the many references to country songs, they will enjoy the vivid language and larger-than-life elements.”
From Booklist: ” Large typeface invites early readers to try to work through the text on their own, but the story is made for reading aloud and sharing the giggles.”
From Horn Book Guide: “This Southwestern-fried ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’ expends so much effort on local (in this case, West Texas) flavor that it fails to serve a satisfying meal.”
-Read several variants of “Jack and the Beanstalk” to compare and contrast the stories.
-Read as part of a unit on the Southwest, including discussions about stereotypes.
-Read along with traditional telling of “Jack and the Beanstalk.” Discuss the methods involved in creating a new variant of a story, then have students work in groups to choose another traditional story and create their own variant.
(Created in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the TWU course LS5603.20 Literature for Children and Young Adults)