'One Rule For Jack' is a fast moving and very funny chapter book about the ongoing battle of wits between the narrator, Jack, and his parents, grandma and uncle. Jack tells us his rule right up front: 'When your parents ask you to do a job - do it badly!' When Jack deliberately snaps off the head of the broom so he can't sweep up the leaves for his mum, she is not at all fazed. She gives him a dustpan and brush and says they will do the trick. When he is asked to mop the floor, he rips the sponge off the mop and flushes it down the toilet. He says the rats ate the sponge, and Grandma comes to his rescue saying she has seen a rat lurking around. But when she tells an old story about having been punished by being made to scrub the floor with a toothbrush, Mum is inspired and hands Jack a toothbrush. Mum is again very helpful and supplies Jack with a plumber's mate or plunger so he can unblock the s-bend. Grandma coaches him on, and he gets covered with water from the toilet bowl - and other unspecified substances! Mum and Dad are so impressed with Jack's willingness to muck in and get all his chores done that they ask him to clean out his uncle's bucket of rotting fish and worms. Jack sneaks a clean bucket and tries to trick them into thinking he has done it, but he's rewarded with being locked into the bathroom with the dog and tasked with shampooing off all the horse manure. Where the story began with Jack's trick for avoiding a shower, now he is forced to bath the dog and shower himself too. He is so successful that the story leaves off at a moment when his parents promise other jobs for him to take on! The lack of closure in the narrative indicates that the story will be neverending.
The battle of wits between adults and children could be compared with that of classics for this age group such as Rockwell's 'How to Eat Fried Worms', or - closer to home - Andrew Daddo's or Andy Griffiths' Australian short stories. While the child is conventionally portrayed in literature as the trickster, there is a hilarious realism about the revelation that adults can be equally wily about playing tricks on young people - if not more so. This creates an appealing balance in the power relationships between older and younger characters. And between the races. One of the best developments in First Nations literature has been the acknowledgment of Indigenous comedy. It enhances the diversity of themes and tones within Indigenous storytelling, and it is empowering. Its entertainment value also ensures young reader appeal. Research into the reasons young people give for reading in the 20th - 21st centuries consistently lists humour as a leading factor. There are moral and ethical values to be inferred from a story such as 'One Rule for Jack', but because they are not explicit they become available and give children agency to discover them or not, as they wish.
Although the education market has moved towards Indigenous-only collaboration in picture books, 'One Rule for Jack' is an interesting example of what might be called a 'reconciliation' text, insofar as the illustrator Craig Smith is not Indigenous, so the book brings together one high-profile Indigenous creator and one high-profile non-Indigenous creator. Young readers might like to consider the ethics and authenticity of illustrations by a non-Indigenous artist. They might also like to discuss the question of how a non-realist illustrator can convey gender, race and age without defaulting to stereotypes, and the extent to which Craig Smith succeeds here.