Illustrated by G. Brian Karas. Unpgd. Schwartz and Wade/ Random House Children's Books, August. 2010.
Don't skip over the endpages or title page here, as the story really begins there. Jack lives at the edge of the forest and is very, very poor. The princess is turning ten and having a party. The messenger sent forth to deliver the invitations loses one. It ends up sliding under Jack's door, and now he has a dilemma. He wants to go, but he and his mother are too poor to buy her a fine present, a present fit for a princess. But Jack has a brilliant idea (illustrated with a candlestick, instead of a lightbulb, teehee), and sets about to bake a cake. And what a cake it is!
He no sooner sets out through the woods to the castle, when he is mobbed by four-and-twenty blackbirds, who take all the walnuts from the top of the cake. Next, a toll-demanding troll takes part, and so on until Jack arrives empty-handed, facing a very bored princess on the receiving line.
The story would be a fun read aloud. The folksy gouache and pencil illustrations are perfect for the text. There's a nice blend of humor, fairy tale motifs and an original story, which highlight the power of improvising and storytelling.