cover image A Handful of Beans: Six Fairy Tales Retold by Jeanne Steig with Illustrations by Wiliam Steig

A Handful of Beans: Six Fairy Tales Retold by Jeanne Steig with Illustrations by Wiliam Steig

Jeanne Steig. HarperCollins Publishers, $21.99 (144pp) ISBN 978-0-06-205162-2

""A long time ago, when magic was more of an everyday matter...."" begins Jeanne Steig's version of ""The Frog Prince,"" an opener that typifies her sly irony and lilting language in this hand-sized volume. She and husband William Steig, who previously collaborated on Alpha Beta Chowder, deliver droll retellings and puckish new art for six familiar tales. Though youngsters may wish there were more illustrations to break up the sometimes text-laden pages, they won't soon forget William Steig's interpretation of Rumpelstiltskin, a ""bizarre little man with a pickle-shaped nose and a lumpish body,"" stomping in outrage when the Queen guesses his name, or the snoring giant clutching his gold coins as Jack attempts to lift a few for his trip down the beanstalk. The artist whimsically refashions the well-known cast, exaggerating their fatal flaws or winning attributes, while placing them in everyday settings. Jeanne Steig also keeps the stories immediately recognizable by traveling the traditional plot lines, but she refreshes each of them by wryly rewarding the virtuous and punishing the villainous with equal panache. For example, in ""Beauty and the Beast,"" the friends of Beauty's two superficial sisters wickedly predict the outcome of the duo's move from elegant townhouse to small country cottage: ""Let them prance through the fields/ In chiffon and high heels,/ Raising arrogant brows/ At the goggle-eyed cows!"" Similarly pithy verse appears throughout these fairy tales (Little Red Riding Hood and Hansel and Gretel also put in an appearance), each of which concludes with a fitting rhymed couplet. A handful of tales certain to please adults as much as children. All ages. (Oct.)