cover image Jack and the Beanstalk

Jack and the Beanstalk

Gennady Spirin, Ann Keay Beneduce. Philomel Books, $17.99 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-399-23118-6

Spirin's (The Sea King's Daughter) breathtaking illustrations for this retelling are so engrossing that readers may notice the fluidity of the text almost as an afterthought. His watercolor and tempera paintings have a hazy yet magisterially detailed look that seems to jump straight out of fairyland. The style in places suggest the earthy qualities and village scenes of Brueghel, but Spirin maintains his characteristic delicacy of line. Lavish borders offer careful still lives of rich cheeses, crusty breads and roasted meats or show tidy curving vines of bean plants. In full-scale illustrations, Spirin emphasizes the giant's monstrous physicality--his bulbous nose and profusely curling whiskers make him seem grossly sensual and quite capable of eating Jack alive. Beneduce (The Tempest) models the text on an 1881 version that gives Jack motivation for tormenting the giant: he is avenging his father's death. Readers old enough to appreciate the complexities of the art will similarly enjoy this less familiar and more complicated rendition of a favorite tale. Ages 4-8. (Oct.)