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Students Write Jack Tales

by Merri Hess

In 1988-89 Merri Hess was a teacher at Ballard Elementary School in Ballard, WV. The work of Hess and her students is reprinted with permission from Journey Through Fantasy Literature: A Resource Guide for Teachers. Vol. I. Ed. Roberta T. Herrin. Developed during a Teachers Institute sponsored by East Tennessee State University and the National Endowment for the Humanities, 1988-89. For questions or comments on this page, or to submit additional ideas or examples from your classes, contact Tina L. Hanlon.

Back to Other Folktale Activities

See also 

Teaching Four "Jack" Books

Bibliography of Appalachian Folktales

Other Folktale Texts in AppLit

Jack Tale Players Web Site

Index of Student Writing in AppLit

Complete List of AppLit Pages on Folklore

The Magic Ruby - fantasy story by a 4th grader, with a main character named Jackfoot

Bush, Betty J., et al. "Stimulating Children to Read and Write through Jack Tales." Reading Teacher, vol. 45 (Mar. 1992): pp. 554-55. ERIC Clearinghouse: CS743133. Short article about intermediate-grade students studying the basic plot and traditional motifs in "Jack and the Beanstalk," then writing their own tales set in different cultures they research. Several excerpts are given from the beginning and end of student tales such as "Pedro and the Cocoa Tree."

Ballard's fourth grade spent several weeks studying Appalachian folktales during the 1988-89 school year. Jack tales, which were used for this study, have been handed down over the years in the Appalachian mountain area through storytelling by family and friends, in classrooms and at storytelling festivals. (See Wonder Tales in Appalachia by Grace Toney Edwards.)

Many Jack tales have now been written down to preserve this part of our heritage and culture. Our class read and studied Richard Chase's Jack Tales and Grandfather Tales. The pattern in these tales concerns a boy named Jack who leaves home and has various adventures, meets challenges and then returns home successful and happy. At times, Jack uses magic to accomplish his task, but often he uses cleverness.

Students first listened to these tales being read or told. Then each student chose a tale and told it to the class. Patterns of plot, setting, characters, language and dialogue were identified by the students. As a final activity, students wrote their own Jack tales, and we collected these original tales in a booklet which was photocopied. The tales are reprinted below.

Jack's Adventure with the Witch by Jessica

At the 1989 Fantasy Fair—a celebration of fantasy literature at East Tennessee State University—Jessica's story tied for first place in the short fiction category.


One day Jack and his brothers were going out to find them a wife. Well, Jack decided to go south and his two brothers went north.

Now a day later Jack's two brothers, Will and Tom, found them two young, beautiful girls and got married. See Jack hadn't found him a wife yet! But that day Jack met an old witch. She said that Jack was a-looking for himself a wife. And he asked how she knew he was a-looking for himself a girl. Then she said that she knew where he could find himself a girl.

"Where? said Jack, getting all excited.

"Wait a second!" said the witch. "First, you've got to get me a husband."

So Jack went down the road and saw an old man standing there. Jack ran over and said, "How would you like a wife?"

The old man said, "Sure, take me to her." So Jack took the old man to the witch.

"Now," said the witch, "you have to find us a preacher."

So that night Jack went a-searching for a preacher. Well, he found a church and went inside. Well, that preachers was a-preaching! And Jack didn't want to interrupt the preacher's sermon, so he sat down and heard the sermon. After it was over, he asked him if he would like to marry a couple. The preacher said sure. So off they went to the old witch's house. When they got here, the preacher married the couple.

Then Jack said, "Well, can I have my girl now?"

"Not yet!" said the witch, "because first you must bring me a chicken nugget."

So Jack went a-looking for a piece of gold, but he didn't find one piece, not one. So Jack was heading to tell the witch the news when he saw a man carrying a sack. Jack asked the man if he knew where he could find him some gold. The man said that Jack was in luck, that he had some gold in his sack. Jack asked him if he would give him a piece about the size of a chicken nugget. The man said he would have to give him something. So Jack gave him his best pocket knife, and the man took it. He gave Jack the piece of gold about the size of a chicken nugget.

Jack brought the piece of gold to the witch and as soon as the witch touched the gold, a beautiful princess appeared right beside her! So Jack married the princess and became prince of the land. The princess was named Jessica.

And you know what? Jack's father and two brothers went a-looking for Jack, but never found him! So his father asked Will and Tom if they knew which way he went. They said he went south. Now they were a-looking for him when they met an old witch and asked her if she knew where Jack went. She said he married a princess and was prince of the land. And, boy, were Jack's two brothers mad!

Jack and the Princess by Tonya

Once upon a time there was a princess who had three eyes. She was sad even though she had three swords, three diamonds, three knives, and three crystals, because she was blind. One day the king said, "Whoever makes my daughter well, he may be rewarded with billions of jewels."

And so three magicians came with magic and three doctors came with their potions, but none could heal her. But Jack was walking along with a magic stick that a witch had given him. And he knew what was wrong with the princess. He was going to try to make her well, so he went to the palace. The guards said, "Boy, you're very, very, very crazy."

Jack said, "I declare, I was going to try to cure the Princess."

The guards said, "Well, go on if you want to be a fool."

So he went to the Princess and touched her head, and she was cured. Jack and the Princess got married and as far as I know they're doing well.

And the last time I was up there Jack and his wife were doing pretty good.

The Magic Knife by Eric

One day a little boy named Jack decided to go off into the world. Well, he was gettin' tired from walking, so he stopped at the river. When he looked down into the river, he saw a face. It was the face of a witch, but a nice one. He was a-lookin' and that witch came out of the river. She asked Jack if she could have some of his sweet tart. "Well," Jack said," yes, she could." And that witch gave him a black knife and walked off.

Jack walked a little further and came to a house. He walked into the house. It was starting to rain, so Jack stayed there. About midnight he heard something. He walked upstairs, and a man came running down with a butcher knife. Jack's knife stabbed the man. And Jack was so scared that he ran home and never went back there again.

Jack and the King by Kim

Jack was leaving home to go see if he could earn some money. He told his mother to fix him something to eat so he could take it with him. Then Jack left and was on his way. He walked for miles and miles. Finally, he came to this house and stopped.

He walked up on the porch and knocked on the door. A man opened the door and said, "Hello, what can I do for you?"

"Well," said Jack, "I am looking for a job."

"Can you cut down trees?"

"Why, yes. That's all I do back home," said Jack.

"I'm the king of this country, and I decide who gets a job. Humm, all right, you're hired. Now come on in and get some dinner."

"Thank you," said Jack, and he entered the house.

"We're having brown beans for dinner," said the king.

So they both sat down and ate their dinner, and then Jack went off to work. Jack cut all the trees except for five. He went back to the king's house and got a thousand dollars for doing all that work. The king told him he could cut the rest down the next day. Jack went to bed very tired.

The next morning he got up and ate breakfast. Then he left to finish cutting down the five trees which were left. When he returned, the king had dinner ready for him, and they ate. Then the king gave him his pay—it was two thousand dollars.

Jack said, "Nice to meet you. Good-bye." And he left the king's house, and he journeyed back home.

Jack and the Three Spiders by Tiffany

Once upon a time Jack was back at home and he heard about a King who had three giant spiders up on his mountain behind his home. Old Jack got to studying and thought he had better go and see if he could get rid of those spiders.

Old Jack went away from home to go to the King's house. The King told him, "Every man that's went up there has got eaten by those three spiders, so you had better stay down here."

"No," said Jack. "I came up here to kill them so I'm a-going on up there."

The King told him that if he'd start banging around that one of them there spiders would come. And for each spider leg that Jack brought back, the King would reward him with a thousand dollars. Jack thought about the girl back home that he wanted to marry and in order to have the wedding he had to bring back $24,000.

So Old Jack got ready to go up to the mountain. When he got up there, he didn't see anything. So he done what the King told him. He went over where a log was and jumped on it three times.

Well, after a little while there came that spider. Jack jumped up into a tree and there came the spider. It was getting closer. Jack just so happened to remember that he had some glue in his pocket, so he poured some of it out.

The spider came up there and saw Jack and said, "What are you doing up there?"

"Oh, nothing," said Jack.

"Then let me up there then."

"Come on up," said Jack. The spider climbed up and got stuck in the glue. Then Jack cut his legs off.

Jack banged three times again and there came another spider. Jack jumped up in the tree. Then that spider got stuck in the glue. Jack cut his left off.

Then he banged three times again and there came another spider. Jack climbed up in the tree and that spider followed him and got stuck in the glue. Jack cut his legs off. Then he got down and went back to the King's house.

Well, the King gave Jack $1.000 for every single leg. In all he had $24,000. He went home and told his Mama and Papa what he'd done. Then he went to his girl's house and they got ready for their wedding. They got married in front of the King's house. And the last time I was up there Jack and his wife were doing pretty good.

Jack and the Giant by Rebekah

One day my friend Jack went for a walk. He saw this big giant. The giant's name was Mean Jean. The giant saw Jack. Jack ran and ran, but that giant caught him.

The giant took Jack back to his cave with him. Jack had to think of something to do. So he decided to pull out his knife. But the giant took it away from him and laughed as hard as he could

Jack decided to hit that giant right between his eyes with a stone. He got a stone and did it. Then Jack laughed. That giant got mad as a hornet. He told Jack if he didn't stop laughing that he would kill him.

Jack was scared. Jack turned around and got a sword that was hanging behind him. He cut that giant's head right off.

Then Jack went home and lived happily ever after. I guess he's still there.

Jack Does What He's Told by Stacy

One day Jack was riding a donkey. He saw a beautiful girl by a well and asked her for a drink of water. She said, "Sure, but he who drinks it will go to the next test."

Jack didn't understand what was going on. She he went home and told his brothers. They went, but didn't find the girl.

Jack went out the next day. Another girl was by the well. She asked him if he wanted a rose. He said, "Yes."

The girl replied, "He who sniffs the rose will go on to he next test."

He didn't understand it. He went home and told his brothers what had happened. So his brothers set out to find her, but they couldn't. So they went home.

Jack set out again. He saw the two girls by the road, and they asked him, "Why didn't you smell and drink the things we gave you? Now go home and do it!"

So Jack went home and did as they told him. And immediately a beautiful girl appeared in front of him. And they got married.

Jack's Town by Brandi

One day when Jack was ten years old, he told his mother that he was going to the store. So his mother asked him to get two eggs and some cow's milk.

Well, when Jack got to the store, there was no store where it ought to have been. What is more, there were no buildings or houses in the whole town! Jack ran home and told his mother. His mother whipped him and went on the errand herself.

When she got to town, everything was there, the store, the buildings, the houses and the people. She bought her two eggs and the cow's milk and returned home. Shortly, she realized that she needed some flour, too. She told Jack to go to the store and get some for her. The same thing happened when he went to where the store was supposed to be! So he ran home and told his mother.

She whipped him again. And she walked to town to get the flour herself. When she got home, she told Jack she needed some sugar. This time Jack said, "Mother, I want you to come with me."

"What a silly boy! I will come with you, Jack," she said.

So she followed Jack to town. She saw the town, but Jack saw nothing, because he was looking at the other side of town!

Jack's Possum by Michael

Once upon a time Jack had a possum, and it followed him everywhere. They had a revival so Jack put his possum in a room. There was a hole in the wall and the possum escaped. The possum followed Jack to church. The possum climbed up the rafters. When the preacher was preaching he said, "My God, what a rat!"

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