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Several Lives of Orphan Jack

Several Lives of Orphan Jack

by Sarah Ellis, Bruno St-Aubin (Illustrator)

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For young Jack, life is tough at the Opportunities School for Orphans and Foundlings. But Jack is good at staying out of trouble.

But when Jack turns twelve, he is given the biggest opportunity of all, and suddenly his life is nothing but trouble.

Jack is made an apprentice to a bookkeeper, which at first sounds like the job of his dreams. Taking care of books


For young Jack, life is tough at the Opportunities School for Orphans and Foundlings. But Jack is good at staying out of trouble.

But when Jack turns twelve, he is given the biggest opportunity of all, and suddenly his life is nothing but trouble.

Jack is made an apprentice to a bookkeeper, which at first sounds like the job of his dreams. Taking care of books — what could be better for a lad whose most treasured possession is a grubby, torn dictionary that he received from the Benevolent Ladies Auxiliary one year for Christmas. But Jack soon learns the hard way that bookkeeping does not involve keeping books safe. Life becomes a misery, and he decides he has no choice but to run away.

But Jack is a clever and resilient boy, and he takes to the traveling life like a creature of the field. Then he arrives in the market town of Aberbog. Lacking worldly merchandise, he becomes an ideas peddlar, selling whims, concepts, plans, opinions, impressions, notions and even fancies. After a rocky start, the dour Aberbogians take him to their hearts, and Jack must decide whether it is time to settle down, or continue his life on the road.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Told with the outsize zest of a tall tale, this vibrant, well-crafted novel starts strong and gets even better. Raised in the Opportunities School for Orphans, the plucky and resilient Jack gets a chance to prove himself as he turns 12, when he is outfitted with an apprenticeship (and his first pair of long pants). First, though, in this tale's characteristic balance of wit and poignancy, he trains the new scullery boy to avoid beatings from the cook ("The secret is to make Cook go sad.... He cries. Huge big tears.... Then he sits in his chair and goes to sleep"). But when Jack's job with a bookkeeper disappoints (he imagines he'll be "sitting at the door in a tidy uniform, keeping the books safe, dry and warm"), he decides to take his luck on the road, armed with little more than his ragged, incomplete dictionary ("A sunrise was better when you knew the word sublime," he believes). In a clever twist, Jack sets himself up at a town fair as a vendor of "thoughts, concepts, plans, opinions, impressions, notions and fancies," and bored villagers snap up his product. Ellis (Out of the Blue) sends a timeless message-about the values of believing in one's own visions, of a positive outlook and similar-and the details she uses are fresh and fun, her language supple and refined. Readers will want to tag along with Jack on his several adventures. Final artwork not seen by PW. Ages 7-10. (Sept.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Children's Literature
Otherjack (so named because there already was an orphaned foundling named Jack when he arrived twelve year ago) is in trouble. The orphanage farms out boys when they reach a certain age and he has been removed from the scullery and the cook's long sea stories to be apprenticed to Mr. Ledger, the accountant. The trouble is, Otherjack can't really do sums, ink is a mess and a mystery, and his handed-down suit is itchy. As he trudges back to school, owing Leger eleven weeks' wages for his accidental ruinations, it occurs to him that he might run away to the sea. And therein lies the fun of the story. Cleverly hiding in a meandering flock of sheep, Otherjack avoids the man sent to look for him and arrives at a country fair. A prized dictionary missing A and B has schooled the now-called Jack so that he is able to earn food by selling "whims," really a fancy name for imaginations, predictions, observations, and poetry. "What use are these ideas?" says the town's curmudgeonly mayor. Says Jack, "The use of them is fresh air for the brain. They make you stop and smile and say to yourself, Gee whillikers, I never thought of that before." Tempted to settle down by a miller and his charming little girl, Jack realizes that he is now a "man of the road" and with his quick wits, he is at ease anywhere. Ellis has a fine time with the telling as Jack's stomach talks to him in large capital letters, and Jack's alliterative summary of his learnings end each chapter. "Slops and slaps is the life of a scullery boy," or "Lost and lonely. That's the life of a fugitive from justice." It's a terrific read-aloud for second and third graders and a short but challenging quick read for upper elementary students whomay ponder, indeed, the uses of word play, big words, and imagination. 2003, Groundwood Books, Ages 7 to 10.
— Susan Hepler, Ph.D.
School Library Journal
Gr 3-6-Otherjack is an orphan, so named because another resident at the Opportunities School for Orphans and Foundlings has already claimed the moniker. The boy had 12 years of avoiding floggings and had "melted away from trouble." When Otherjack's "opportunity" arises, he leaves school for the real world, in which many adventures await. The lad, who carries around a battered dictionary and whose passion is language, becomes a bookkeeper's apprentice ("Scholars and scoundrels. Volumes and villains. That will be my life," he thinks). Unhappy, he leaves, and after a series of adventures and misadventures, his true calling becomes clear: he is an "ideas peddler," selling whims, hunches, promises, and intuitions. Finally, he has found success at doing what he does best, and prepares for a life on the road. While the story is slight, there is real strength in Ellis's turns of phrase ("She was so full of herself that she hadn't no room for one more thought"), use of imagery, and alliteration, and in showing readers the power of words and ideas to liberate the imagination.-Sharon Korbeck, Waupaca Area Public Library, WI Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A surprising adventure is possible for Jack if he stays true to his heart and to his love of knowledge. Apprenticed to a bookkeeper, Jack daydreams of watching over books, reading books, and keeping books from harm. He is surprised to find that instead of the dream job that he imagined, his days are to be filled with numbers and monotony. He decides to take another future and runs away from the orphanage, finding that he has a gift for creating stories and dreams, even succeeding at making a small living with this gift at a local fair. Clean writing with a subtle humor weaves a tale that will inspire readers to learn new words, even as they laugh along with spirited Jack. Black-and-white ink illustrations pepper the text, offering faces for the amusing characters. In a word--wonderful. (Fiction. 7-10)

Product Details

Groundwood Books
Publication date:
Edition description:
First Trade Paper Edition
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x (d)
Age Range:
7 - 10 Years

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Meet the Author

Award-winning author Sarah Ellis grew up in a family that loved to share stories and read books. Passions that lead her to become a children's librarian and eventually to start writing books herself. Ellis's awards include the Governor General's Award, the Mr. Christie's Book Award and the Vicky Metcalf Award. She lives in Vancouver, B.C.

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