I was inspired to request Gene Barretta's Jack the Tripper from Harcourt because I liked the title. And it is quite a funny picture book. It's about the students at the Benjamin Dizzie Elementary School, who start coming to school with dramatic reports of getting "tripped". First up is Polly, who reports being tripped, and the theft by the tripper of Polly's "extra long, extra wonderful book report." Then pudgy Winston reports being tripped and robbed of a box of candy belonging to the class. And so on. The headmaster and the police become involved, as does the mysterious school founder Dr. Dizzie. The presence of Jack the Tripper threatens the cancellation of the annual school party, the Dizzie Day Parade. And even after the secret of Jack the Tripper is revealed, a surprise twist shakes things up at the end of the book.
Jack the Tripper is a book that will make kids laugh. It's filled with amusing anecdotes and visual tricks. On the very first page, a book on the teacher's desk is titled "History and Her Story". When the class is shocked by Polly's story, we learn that "the whole class was shaken, and a bit stirred". We also learn this about school founder Dr. Dizzie:
"Yes, he was wise. Sure, he was noble. Yet he combed his hair with a fork and his best friend was a monkey. Every year he led the Dizzie Day Parade with the bold command "Anything Goes!""
"Anything Goes!" is in a large, bold, elaborate font. Dr. Dizzie's portrait on the wall shows him drinking out of a red straw, one hand reaching out below the picture frame, holding a yo-yo. Although his features look ordinary, he is clearly a jokester to be reckoned with.
The tripping stories told by the children are separated visually from the regular watercolor illustrations by being shown in shades of blue. The boy with the lost candy's story shows thought-bubble insets wrapped like candies. (Difficult to describe, but a lovely, subtle touch that lends a surreal quality to this story within the story). Another nice touch is that on each new day, the day is displayed in the upper left-hand corner of the page, in the same elaborate, old-fashioned font used for "Anything Goes!". This font, along with the cobblestone streets and other trappings, give homage to old fairy tales (as does a girl dressed up as Pinocchio for the parade). The book is a delightful mix of old and new.
Jack the Tripper is enjoyable on the first reading. Subsequent reads reveal increasing layers of cleverness. This is a book that could well become a family favorite. Highly recommended for the four to eight-year-old set.
Publisher: Harcourt Children's Books
Publication Date: August 1, 2008
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher
© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.