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Fair's Fair is a picture book about a poor orphan called Jackson. One bitter, snowy day just before Christmas he is so cold and hungry that he can't decide whether to hold his hot pie to keep his hands warm or to eat it. Despite this, when a huge, growling, starving dog comes along, he kindly shares his pie because he thinks that is the fair thing to do. When Jackson finds a key under the dog's collar, they set off on an adventure to find the door that the key will fit, which turns out to be a creepy old mansion!

Reader's Reviews


Fair's Fair is a Dickensian-style Christmas story involving a poor, kind orphan, a strange dog, a snow blizzard, a creepy mansion and plenty of mystery. It is fairly short and easy to read, and would be suitable for readers who are gaining confidence in reading on their own, or for reading aloud. There are many beautiful illustrations by Margaret Chamberlain which help to draw the reader in; for example, the use of greys and whites during the large blizzard scene actually help you to share the same cold, miserable experiences with Jackson and to feel for him. What is particularly enjoyable about this book is the descriptive language that Garfield uses, and the cliffhangers where you are left wondering what will happen next.


Leon Garfield has set set this particular book during the Victorian Period detailing the fascinating, mysterious yet creepy (at times) journey of a young, homeless orphan boy named Jackson. The book introduces Jackson as starving, hungry and dirty waiting to eat his hot, steamy pie he had earned. Eager to eat his pie and also keep warm, Jackson, encounters a huge ferocious black dog of whom he shares his meal with. 

With unexpected twists and turns, Jackson encounters something hidden underneath the dog’s collar, leading to mystery, adventure and some unexpected rewards!

This fantastic and engaging children’s book is illustrated in both colour and black and white. It is ideal for the newly confident reader. 

Fair’s Fair By Leon Garfield

Fair’s Fair by Leon Garfield has an engaging plot which has all the ingredients of an inspirational story. Poor Jackson is cold and starving on a cruel and dreadful night. He is sitting on the steps outside a house shivering in cold. Jackson is looking forward to eating the steaming pie that he earned for himself in return for a long night’s work when the horrifying black dog comes. The boy gives the dog half of his pie and what follows is unimaginable…

The atmosphere of suspense in the story is created by the rich use of language which also helps the readers to form vivid pictures in their minds while reading. The illustrations in the story are coloured as well as black and white which supports and elucidates the storyline.

The author has underlined the golden virtues of honesty, kindness, patience and generosity. Therefore this book would be a great resource for either a PSHE or Literacy lesson in either KS1 or 2. The protagonists of the story are very inspiring and will prove to be the role models for young children. It is a “must have” book in the classrooms of a primary school and an ideal read for Christmas.


"Fair's Fair" Book Review: September 2013

The story of Jackson in Leon Garfield’s “Fair’s Fair” is one of dread, suspense, adventure and positive morals. As a Victorian boy living on the streets we meet Jackson outside Paddy’s Goose in the worst part of town, which is fitting for this main character. Leon Garfield shows off his passion for historically based books by creating a truly dark and grim Victorian England for us to enjoy.

Readers get a great taste for language through Garfield’s character and setting descriptions, as well as the way he descries action. Brian Hoskin’s illustrations match the text perfectly, helping young readers see the effects of good description and being able to picture what it looks like when writing stories. The illustrations are also fantastic for reading at home, and seeing what description can be seen in the pictures to help enhance children’s collection of descriptive words.

Most importantly “Fair’s Fair” contains great morals to teach children about honesty and self-reward. Whether you read Leon Garfield’s works at home at bedtime or hear it being read in school, he is a great author who is guaranteed to inspire children’s literacy and passion to read in order to discover distant lands and foreign times.

Fair's Fair Book Review - September 2014

‘Fair’s Fair’ features an unlikely hero, a “thin small and ugly” orphaned boy who lives on the city streets. The boy, Jackson, shares what little he has in the way of food with what he believes to be a stray dog. It is significant that a boy who has nothing still has it in him to share. It is the representation of such personality traits for which the book is written as it centres on one’s capability to offer help to those in need, despite one’s own current circumstance. Jackson then proceeds to help the dog find its way home and perseveres even as a blizzard hits the streets. He happens across a large old house in which he finds a little girl, Lillipolly, sitting at a long dining table and eating a freshly-cooked feast, the type of which Jackson himself has never seen. Lillipolly then explains the she, too, accompanied the dog to the house in search of its home. It becomes clear to an adult reader at this point that children are being rewarded for their acts of kindness. More opportunities arise for the two children to demonstrate further virtue as they continue to stay in the manor house, whereby they are fed three luxurious meals a day.

There are five acts that structure the story, which Garfield makes quite plain towards the end of the book, through the character of Mr Beecham Chambers. Mr Chambers explains that he is the owner of the manor house and was looking to adopt two children that are kind, brave, patient, honest and generous. He continues to explain that the children’s actions throughout the story adhere to all of these notions. The book undoubtedly centres itself on the demonstration of one’s behaviour in relation knowing one’s own conscience in accordance with aspects of morality. An adult reader would immediately understand at Jackson’s discovery of the manor that he is being rewarded for his actions. But for children, Mr. Chamber’s explanation offers a sense of clarity.

I believe that the book would be appropriate for lower KS2 although I have met some extraordinary children as young as FS2 that have been able to read this book. This is most likely down to the fact that the language is very simple; devoid of figurative linguistics. The repetition of the phrase “fair’s fair” throughout the book really hones the proffered sense of what is right. There are both black and white and colour pictures in the book; the latter seem to appear at a moment when one of the five acts is taking place, acting almost as an indicator that would register with the subconscious. It is an enjoyable book, part of a series named ‘Gripping Tales’ that I am sure many children will love due to its sense of adventure. It makes quite a nice book for individual or supported reading, as opposed to reading as a whole class, simply for the fact that it asks for one’s own opinion as events occur.

Fair's Fair Book Review- September 2014

Fair’s Fair by Leon Garfield is a lovely tale of an unexpected hero with good morals and a heart-warming story line. Jackson is a homeless orphan who is unkempt and unloved. He begins the story faced with the decision of whether to hold his hot pie to warm his hands or to eat it to feed his starving belly. A scary-looking black dog comes along and Jackson shows his kindhearted spirit by sharing his hot pie with the dog. After finding a key around the dog’s neck, Jackson embarks on a journey, through the blistering winds and ice-cold snow, to return the dog to his rightful owner.

The rich use of language throughout make this a fantastic book for using within a literacy lesson to show how Leon Garfield conveys suspense and a sense of imagery to the reader. It would particularly be good for topics surrounding winter, weather or Christmas. It would most likely be suitable for a lower Key Stage 2 aged children and with wonderful illustrations by Margaret Chamberlain, it would appeal to children who are starting to gain confidence in reading alone.

There could be more able readers in Key Stage 1 who would enjoy this book but it may be key to point out that some children may feel a bit frightened by the descriptions and illustrations of the dog in the beginning. As it features an orphaned child, children who have possibly lost one or both parents may find this topic sensitive. Nevertheless, Jackson makes a brilliant role model to young children and I would highly recommend this inspirational tale to both adults and children.  

Fairs Fair - Leon Garfield. Review September 2014 - 

A lovely, heartwarming tale about Jackson, a starving orphan all alone in the depth of winter. He is about to eat his hard earned pie when suddenly appears a huge black dog " big as a donkey, nearly, with eyes like street lamps and jaws like an open oven." Despite his terrifying appearance, Jackson takes pity on the dog and shares his pie, an act of kindness that will take him on a journey, with life changing results!  

This book would be suitable for younger readers who are ready to develop their independent reading. The descriptive language and use of regional dialect will also help in develop vocabulary and story writing skills. 

Fairs Fair is a moral tale, highlighting the rewards of kind deeds and honesty and although it's opening is quite bleak, it has a good old happy ending!  

Parental Guidance

  • Reading Age: 7+

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