Jack Sprat - Thao Lam
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Jack Sprat

Jack Sprat

Jack Sprat

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Every Sunday at the St. Lawrence Market, vendors gather with their vintage and collectable items. The antique market is a treasure hunter’s delight and a perfect place to sharpen your negotiation skills. Part of the appeal of the market is also its people, the stories and the bits and pieces of conversation you overhear as you wander up and down the stalls. You can collect rare stories and meet one-of-a-kind people and it doesn’t cost you a dime.

A couple of Sundays ago, I was making my way through the crowd, feeling visually overwhelmed. There is always so much to see that it feels like if you blink, you’ll miss something. My eyes were scanning every nook and cranny when I stumbled across the motherload. Buried in the corner, stacked below a bunch of vintage toys, was a collection of children’s books from the 1950s and 60s. Giddy as a schoolgirl, I combed through the pile and happily paid the gentleman $5 – a steal! I am looking forward to sharing my new found treasures with you, first up Jack Sprat. Keep reading…

Printed in 1966, Jack Sprat, written by Helen Wing and illustrated by Anne Sellers Leaf, is part of the Elf Book Collection. “Jack Sprat” is an English poem from the 16th century; it is reputed to be about King Charles I and his Queen, Henrietta Maria. When King Charles (Jack Sprat) declared war on Spain, parliament refused to finance him (leaving him lean) so his wife imposed an illegal war tax (to get some fat). The King eventually dissembled Parliament and had his war.

In Helen Wing’s rhyming version of “Jack Sprat”, we meet a man named Jack, who “would eat no fat and his wife, who would eat no lean and so between them they licked the platter clean.” We follow the funny antics of Jack and his wife as they fill their house with a kitten, a pup, a parrot, a billy goat, and piggy and a mouse. Then, his wife decides they ought to have some children in the house, so off they go to find some children of their own. I wonder why the author decided to go with the adoption route and not have Mrs. Sprat give birth to their half dozen or so kids. Was it because of the target audience (too young to know about the birds and the bees) or the era in which the book was written (wholesome, a time when stocks were still delivering babies)?

The illustrations are also wholesome and cute as a button, very retro in style. In order to help children recognize their primary colours, Leaf was instructed to use true reds, blues and greens so every page is popping with colour.

The Elf Book Collection was a new series of inexpensive books created by Rand McNally & Company (cleverly named, elf-sized books made for elf-sized tots). They believed that love and appreciation for literature must begin at a young age and should be affordable to the masses. These pocket size books are perfect for little hands and ideal for keeping the printing cost down. Printed in colour, these hardcover books were sold at 25 cent each – now that is a bargain!

Jack Sprat, a children’s book review by Thao Lam

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Author Helen Wing

I wasn’t able to find any information on Helen Wing using Google. If anyone out there has any info, please share.

Illustrator Anne Sellers Leaf

There is not much on our illustrator Anne Sellers Leaf either. If anyone out there has any info, please share.

Publisher Rand McNally Publisher (1966)