cover image The Book That Jack Wrote

The Book That Jack Wrote

Jon Scieszka. Viking Children's Books, $16.99 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-670-84330-5

Scieszka ( The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales ) and Adel lend a few demented twists to familiar nursery verse in this puzzlesome but polished yarn. As in the ``House That Jack Built,'' a cause-and-effect chain is steadily built (``This is the Cat / That ate the Rat / . . . That lay in the book that Jack wrote''). Adel, whose illustrations have appeared in the New York Times , contributes bizarre but virtuosic paintings that evoke Alice in Wonderland by way of Francis Bacon. His Cat, for instance, has unsettlingly human teeth and a wide Cheshire grin from which dangles the unfortunate Rat's tail; a Hatter a la John Tenniel shows up later. Adel's sophisticated compositions, set against white ground, incorporate picture frames that give each portrait a 3-D, lifelike quality. Scieszka's detached narrative seems straightforward at first, but gets weirder as the passage of time goes out-of-whack. When, at the conclusion, a ``book that Jack wrote'' falls on and flattens a Man, the Man's feet protrude from beneath the book--but those feet were present from the story's first page. Readers who require logic will be stymied; those who appreciate near-Victorian oddities and Escher-like conundrums will tumble right in. Ages 5-up. (Sept.)