Cover of Brave Jack and the Unicorn

Brave Jack and the Unicorn
won the Bruneau Family Children's Literature Award in 2006. This is the provincial book award in Newfoundland and Labrador, which is presented every other year.

Brave Jack was also short listed for the 2006 Silver Birch Award. This readers' choice program for children in grades 4, 5 and 6 is run by volunteer members of the Ontario Library Association. Last year, 80,000 students across Ontario read books from the fiction and non-fiction short lists and voted for their favourites. 

                   Used with permission of Tundra Books. All rights reserved.

How Brave Jack Came To Be

Newfoundland, where I live, still has a rich tradition of story telling. Some of the stories are those traditional tales from Europe that we call  "fairytales." In Newfoundland, the hero of these stories is almost always called Jack, so the stories themselves are called "Jack tales."

I moved to Newfoundland in 1979 to study folklore. I completed a Master's degree and eventually, a Doctorate. When I first came to Newfoundland, I was lucky enough to hear Emile Benoit, the master fiddle player, tell some of these tales. One had an exciting chase scene at the end, involving magical objects that are transformed into barriers, and a magician who transforms himself in matching ways.

To learn more about Emile Benoit, visit this Great Names of the French Canadian Community page.

In the winter of 1999, I helped lead a folk tale project for grade 8 students at Macdonald Drive Junior High School in St. John's. Working with me was Andy Jones, one of Newfoundland's leading actors. Andy told a Newfoundland folk tale, "Jack and the Three Giants," to the students as part of the project. Watching him perform, I was taken by the warmth and humour of the story.

In the winter of 2001, I was invited to the Labrador Arts Festival. Among the other artists with me was Susan Tooke, the Nova Scotia artist and illustrator. Susan wanted to illustrate a folk tale, so I told her I would write one for her.  I knew my hero would be named Jack, and I knew he would be the youngest and least promising of three brothers. I also knew Jack's kindness and courage would help him more than his older brothers' cleverness or handsome looks could. I hate stories about girls who just sit around waiting to be rescued, so I made sure my princess was clever enough to outwit her villain, and active enough to play a big role in freeing herself.    

If You are a Teacher

Please visit my Brave Jack Teachers' Resource Page for useful links and suggestions for using this book in your classroom. 

What about that Mountain of Glass? 

Lots of fairy tales feature a mountain of glass that must be climbed as a trial.
Susan and I wanted our mountain of glass to be an iceberg.

Iceberg off Signal Hill, NewfoundlandNewfoundland is famous for its icebergs. Sometimes in March or April, if ocean currents are right, dozens of these huge glass mountains drift right by the coast of Newfoundland. When my daughter was in grade six, she could look out her classroom window and see an iceberg which was grounded at Fort Amherst in the Narrows all spring.

 I took this photograph of an iceberg from the national park on Signal Hill at the mouth of St. John's harbour a few years ago. I walked from my house. If you look very carefully on the left-hand side of the iceberg, you'll see little dots. These are seagulls. The right-hand side of this iceberg is very rough, so it probably came from the bottom of a glacier. This iceberg probably came from Greenland. The icebergs from Ellesmere Island in Canada tend to be blocky rather than curved.

    Grade Five students at Gander Academy in Gander, Newfoundland  put up an excellent page of Iceberg Web Resources. Be sure to click on the red headings to visit the links.

    To learn more about icebergs, visit the International Ice Patrol's Kids' Korner.

The Brave Jack Photo Gallery

Susan Tooke visited Newfoundland in the summer of 2003, taking many photographs that helped to serve as the backgrounds for her illustrations.  I was with her for part of the trip, and I took photos of the same places. To see some of the places in the book, visit my Brave Jack Photo Gallery.

Where Do Those Unicorns Come From?

The unicorns in my book are actually Newfoundland Ponies. Susan and I both felt that the Newfoundland pony was the perfect model for any unicorn to be found in Newfoundland. To find out more, visit the Newfoundland Pony Society website.
If you really like ponies, here's another Newfoundland Pony web page.

Brave Jack Vocabulary
Although Brave Jack is a picture book, the vocabulary in the book (the words that are used) are enough of a challenge to interest older readers. To explore some of the words in the book, visit my Vocabulary Page. This page includes a word scramble game.  

Publication Information: Brave Jack and the Unicorn, by Janet McNaughton, illustrations by Susan Tooke, Tundra Books, ISBN 0-88776-677-3.


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