One of my favourite books ever is I am Jack, by Susanne Gervay (Angus and Robertson/Harper Collins Publishers 2000). A couple of months ago, I was lucky enough to see I am Jack performed on stage in Brisbane (Queensland, Australia), and what a treat that was! In my post about it, I described the performance as having "lots of opportunities for laughter, but also moments when 150 children sat transfixed and made not a sound."
It's difficult to pinpoint why I like the novel, I am Jack, so much. I guess it's a combination of factors. Firstly must come its theme - bullying. I loathe the consequences of bullying and applaud Gervay for writing a book that shows victims of bullying that they're not alone in that scary, lonely place. Her honesty and matter-of-factness make this book accessible to kids who may not be able to speak up for themselves.
Next is humour. Does that seem to conflict with such a serious theme? Not at all with Gervay's deft handling. There is drama, tension, conflict AND humour as we get to know Jack and his family.
That brings me to character - Gervay's characters are thoroughly believable. I'm sure I know Nanna - enjoys a chat, a little hard-of-hearing, loves to score a bargain or ten at the shops - and all the other characters are just as real. Even when the bully George made me furious on Jack's behalf, he was always three dimensional, not a stereotype.
Above all though, as with many great books, I think I am Jack shines because of its authentic voice. From the first lines, we hear the narrator as a young boy. We experience his anguish; share his corny jokes one minute and pant with him the next as he runs to escape the bullies. Jack grows, changes, learns lots about who he is and what is important to him during the book, and through him, so do we.
Super Jack (Angus and Robertson/Harper Collin 2003) continues with the great characters we met in I am Jack. This time we experience the highs and lows of Jack's life against the backdrop of a holiday on the Gold Coast. Super Jack introduces a new problem for Jack in the form of Leo, his sort-of-step-dad Rob's son. Jack also must cope with worries about Nanna's health, his growing affection for Anna, and Rob moving in. He's such a great kid though, you just know he'll sort it out in the end!
Cathy Wilcox's illustrations are only occasional in what is really a chapter book. We find them most often as chapter headers. But there are also some quirky, comic-style sketches that contribute an extra visual element to Gervay's word pictures.
Both I am Jack, and Super Jack are perfect for kids 8-12. They deal with serious issues in a light-hearted way, but above all, are great stories from a superb story teller. If you'd like to take a peek inside, the Harper Collins site offered me the option of letting you browse inside the book via my blog in the widget below.
Susanne Gervay's own website adds real value to the books. You can check out a cute trailer of I am Jack, link to find Monkey Baa stage show performances, get more information about bullying, and discover a ton of useful literacy activities tied to the books. The great news here too, is that US readers can share the fun - it's published in the USA by Tricycle Press, an imprint of Random House USA, and has been translated into Korean, Bahasa and Vietnamese.