“Lazy Jack,” or “Foolish Jack,” is a “noodlehead tale” found in many different countries. The basic story is of Jack, a foolish and lazy fellow who goes out to find work. He is paid each day in various goods. When he is paid in money, he loses it, and his mother tells him he should have put it in his pocket. When the next day he is paid in milk, he puts it in his pocket, and his mother tells him he should have carried it on his head. The next day he is paid in butter or cheese,which he puts on his head. Each day, he does with his new item what he should have done the day before.
On the last day, Jack is struggling home with a donkey over his shoulder when he passes the home of a princess, or at least a rich girl, who never laughs. Her father has sworn that he will give her hand in marriage to anyone who can make the girl laugh. Seeing Jack with the donkey, she bursts into laughter, and is married off to Jack, who never has to work again.
This is a fun story to act out and to illustrate. Encourage students to retell the story with different items, giving small groups time to work out their own versions and present them to the class.
This story is told in many countries, and there are several picture book versions, including Tony Ross’s Lazy Jack. None of these versions has quite the same narrative, but they are all similar enough to be recognizable.
- Juan Bobo Goes to Work is Marisa Montes’s easy reader version of the Puerto Rican folktale. Here is a Reader’s Theater version of a Juan Bobo story.
- Read “Epaminondas” retold by Rick Walton here, or enjoy Colleen Salley’s picture book Epossumondas , in which the main character is a possum.
- The Grimm brothers’ story “Prudent Hans” is a German version of the story, involving a courtship rather than work. Chaucerian Girl has done a very nice retelling of this story, adding herself as the sister of Hans. You may need to explain that “casting sheep’s eyes” at someone means to look at them adoringly.
- The similar character in Portugal is known as “Joao Pateta.” He is sent shopping for his mother, and each time brings the items back in the manner appropriate to the previous errand.
- Silly Saburo is the Japanese take on this story, and there is a picture book including this story by Florence Sakade, Peach Boy and Other Japanese Children’s Favorite Stories.
- We find Amelia Bedelia , in the wildly popular series of beginning reader chapter books by Peggy Parish , very reminiscent of Foolish Jack.
- Noodlehead Stories is a collection of similar tales from around the world.
- Consider whether “Jack” in this story could have been the same Jack as in “Jack and the Beanstalk.” If so, have students write a narrative bridge between the two stories, first determining which seems more likely to have come first. If not, challenge them to write a story in which the two Jacks meet and have an adventure together.
- Noodlehead stories and trickster tales sometimes overlap. Study and compare the two genres.
- Here is a PDF lesson for writing noodlehead stories.
- Jack doesn’t go look for worked until he is forced to, and none of his employers keeps him on for more than one day. Have students pretend to be Jack’s employment counselor, and write a report on how he needs to improve his work habits.
- The princess or rich girl in the story isn’t usually a very important character. She appears only briefly, and we do not know why she was so sad, or whether Jack cheered her up permanently. Rewrite the story from her point of view.
- Jack doesn’t negotiate payments for his work ahead of time, but just works and accepts whatever is given to him at the end of the day. Is he getting wages, or are these payments gifts or charity? Debate, or use this as a writing prompt.
- Have students role play Jack and his employers negotiating wages. Encourage students to use economic factors such as return on investment, productivity, and supply and demand in their arguments.
- What place do casual laborers such as Jack have in the economic system? If you have been studying economics, this should lead to a rousing class discussion, and some good responsive writing. Think about Uber drivers and other gig workers as well as day laborers.
- Classification is a skill that would have made a big difference to Jack. Write the names of the items Jack received in payment on word cards and have students use grouping circles, pocket charts, or other physical divisions to categorize them in as many ways as possible.
- Having determined all kinds of ways to sort the items, challenge the students to create a flow chart that would help Jack figure out how to get his payments safely home, given that he will have new items every day. If the students need help, you might start them off with the question “Is the payment alive?” Encourage them to make use of the sorting experience to do this task.
- Jack seems to have a very simple rule for learning from previous experience. His rule is reflected in the name of one of the folktales in this group, “I’ll Know Better Next Time.” Discuss other ways to benefit from experience. Can students state Jack’s rule? Can they come up with a better one?
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