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Brave Jack and the Unicorn    by Janet McNaughton & Susan Tooke order for
Brave Jack and the Unicorn
by Janet McNaughton
Order:  USA  Can
Tundra, 2005 (2005)
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Brave Jack and the Unicorn is an original folktale of Newfoundland, Canada, as told by Janet McNaughton. Susan Tooke's illustrations emphasize the maritime landscapes and nicely fill in the gaps in a reader's imagination.

An old widow lives in a cove by the sea with three sons - Tom is 'as handsome as the day' and Bill 'as clever as a cat'. The youngest, simple Jack, annoys his family with his soft heart and kindness. His brothers take advantage. The elder two demand fine clothes and horses from their mother so that they can seek their fortunes. She spends her life savings and sells half her land to equip these ungrateful young men, who leave 'without a backward glance'.

The next spring, their mother sends Jack, in his old clothes, walking in search of his brothers. Along the way, he feeds ants, pulls an axe from a tree, shares his food with a woman on the road, and helps a farmer deliver a calf - he's rewarded for each good deed. He also hears of a princess, whose suitors a magician has decreed must pass difficult tests (Jack's brothers have tried and failed). The story evolves as expected, with Jack's kind acts having earned him the keys to success.

But it's not quite the usual fairytale with a passive princess to be won. This clever and kind young lady gives a helping hand at the end. She rides the unicorn along with Jack, and has the good sense to choose him to rule beside her. They and their children 'all lived the happiest of ever afters', concluding a delightful tale.

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