When no one claimed the trunk that Old Jake found on Old Miller Road he was surprised to find what was in it- not books, or gold- but skirts. Cotton calico skirts. He didn't think they would be of any use to him but before he knew it those skirts had gone a long way to brightening up his farm and even himself!
Paperback, 36 pages
July 1st 2003
by Rising Moon Books
(first published March 1998)
"Old Jake's Skirts" by C. Anne Scott and David Slonim is an excellent picturebook. It's fun, clever, enjoyable to look at, and even treats some more mature themes with expert skill and tenderness. The book recounts the story of Old Jake, an old, antisocial hermit who lives in a backwater farm that is plagued by, well, plagues from year to year. His life consists of trying to scrape out a living growing pumpkins, surviving the said plagues, and, wshittling chunks of wood. However, this all change"Old Jake's Skirts" by C. Anne Scott and David Slonim is an excellent picturebook. It's fun, clever, enjoyable to look at, and even treats some more mature themes with expert skill and tenderness. The book recounts the story of Old Jake, an old, antisocial hermit who lives in a backwater farm that is plagued by, well, plagues from year to year. His life consists of trying to scrape out a living growing pumpkins, surviving the said plagues, and, wshittling chunks of wood. However, this all changes when he encounters a strange trunk in the middle of the street. After putting out a lost notice and waiting a few months, Jake finally opens the trunk to find....skirts. Bright, vibrant, calico skirts. Old Jake, not being one to waste a resource, uses the skirts to help him around the house. As he uses the skirts, they start to change his heart. The story eventually comes to a head as Jake must confront the original owners of the trunk, and it is a meeting that tugs at the heartstrings. Bestowed with Scott's wonderful writing creative writing skills and Slonim's characteristic illustrations, "Old Jake's Skirts" is an exceptional book.
One of the things that I love about this book is the fact that Scott doesn't need to directly tell us who Old Jake is. She lets Jakes words, actions and expressions tell us about him. We hear his western accent from the first "Watcha rekon it is" he speaks. He is handy from the patchwork he does with the skirts and his whittling, yet he is rather antisocial. He likes to get to the store first, "buy his things, and clear out before the town talkers arrived for their morning round of gossip". However, we see that Old Jake himself is a rather good person in both the way he treats his dog, Shoestring, and the way that he thoughtfully, yet awkardly, leaves a "found" note for the trunk that he finds. We feel for him as we see him see and touch the foreign beauty of the skirts for the first time. We know that it is perhaps the only thing of beauty that has been on the place for a long time. We also see Jake's insecurity by his quickly shutting the trunk and throwing it into the corner after thinking that perhaps he let out "mischevious spirits" by opening it. And, though there are many examples of the personification and creation of character through various literary devices, my favorite is found on near the end, when we finally glimpse what Jake has been whittling. We read that "the oldest carvings" are of "dogs, and guns, and long-bearded men" while the "newer ones" are of "roses and doves and dolls". This implicit characterization masterfully tells the tale of Jake's transformation after having encountered the skirts. I, personally, thought that it was a really nice, yet subtle, touch, and a great way to express a theme of the book without hitting us over the head with it.
That said, I also respect Scott and Slonim for how they handled the theme of death that appears in the book. For the sake of not spoiling anything I will be limiting myself to describing literary and illustrative devices, without touching the storyline. Up to the point of the introduction of the theme, the illustrations are rather impressionistic, not realistic. The depictions of Jake, Shoestring, and the other characters are done in such a way that they verge on being of a cartoon style. However, when the theme of death approaches, we see a subtle shift in artistic style. Those associated with the theme are drawn in a comparatively realistic fashion. One practically feels the contrast between the newcomers and the familiar characters, yet the contrast is not so great as to break the suspension of disbelief. In the actual treating of the theme, we see that, much as in life, the actual problem of death is not solved. There is no magical revivification or other solution. We do see, thougth, that, even though death hurts, comfort can be found, as it is found for some of the characters. I interpreted that after death, life isn't the same, but we can find ways of moving on. Needless to say, this part of the story will impact both children and adults, yet not adversely. It helps us come to terms with these things. I would suggest reading this book whether one is experienced with death or not, just to bring up the subject and prepare one deal with it, for it will touch us all one day. Though the theme of death is a secondary one in this book, I think that it is a great example of how it should be treated in children's literature.
"Old Jake's Skirts" is a great book for anyone of any age group. It is fun, yet profound. Read it soon!...more