J is for Jack, the Appalachian Super-Hero

This summer public libraries across the country will be presenting Summer Reading programs around the theme of super-heroes-- but who could be more super than Jack, that wily, sometimes lazy but always using his canny wit to get through troubles and tribulations.

Jack is the hero of many an Appalachian tale, and come to that, may British and European tales too. As Hans (German and Norway), Ti Jean (French), Juan (Spanish), Ivan (Russia), and others, the "Jack" persona has been slaying dragons, tricking kings, wooing princesses and outwitting ogres for centuries. So he's a natural for this summer of hero tales, I think, and I am looking forward to telling his tales to audiences of all ages.

Because that's the thing about Jack: he charms, entertains and surprises adults and teens as easily as he does children. Men in particular are drawn in to the stories about this unlikely and ungainly boy, perhaps remembering their own days of outrageous adventures. Girls like Jack because he's funny, and because he often collaborates with girls in his adventures--and he seems to like them pretty well too, as he is always trying to win over some maiden or another.

Jack tales have been in America probably since the very early days of settlement, and in what we now call West Virginia since before 1738, according to an early historian of our state, Joseph Doddridge. The stories furnished amusement for all ages in those days and continue to do so today.

So here's to Jack, a real super hero. May his adventures and exploits long live in the stories told about him by storytellers across the globe. This summer he will come alive in my programs for libraries. We'll be singing some old songs about Jack, playing out story parts with puppets and audience participation and having a fine time with these lively tales. I hope you will be in the audience somewhere along my trail.