Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

The Several Lives of Orphan Jack

The Several Lives of Orphan Jack

Sarah Ellis
Illustrator:  Bruce St-Aubin 
For ages 7 to 10
Groundwood Books, 2005   ISBN: 978-0888996183

Otherjack is an orphan who lives at the Opportunities School for Orphans and Foundlings. Otherjack is a boy who always, somehow, manages to stay out of trouble. This is the way he likes things to be because Otherjack is, for the most part, a quiet and peaceable fellow. For Otherjack, one of the greatest pleasures in life is to read the dictionary and to play with words as if they were the toys he had never had.  The other thing that keeps Otherjack going when times are hard, is to daydream about what his life could be like.

When the principal of his school tells him that he is to be apprenticed to a bookkeeping firm, Otherjack builds up a wonderful dream about his future. Poor Otherjack has all sorts of wonderful ideas about what a bookkeeper would do. Unfortunately, the reality is very boring and dismal. Instead of being a keeper of books, a collector of words, Otherjack finds himself bending over pages and pages of figures, numbers with no meaning or warmth in them.

For Otherjack, the prospect of a life as a bookkeeper is more than he can bear, and he decides to do something truly radical; Otherjack runs away. When he does so, he ceases to be Otherjack and becomes Jack instead; Jack who has “the life of a wandering boy.”

Jack soon discovers that he has many such lives, each one interesting in its own way. It is when he becomes a purveyor of words, ideas, impressions, and whims, when he becomes an “ideas peddler,” that Jack comes into his own. Jack finds out that he has a gift that he can share, one that can be very powerful if it is used wisely.

This special book is filled with often humorous and extraordinarily rich descriptive prose that is always a pleasure to read and full of surprises,. The author clearly is very fond of her character, and she enjoys a little gentle tongue-in-cheek humour at his expense. Indeed, Jack is a boy whom it would be hard not to like.

This is a tale that will greatly appeal to all who love of words, books, who have an active imagination and who appreciate a travelling spirit.