cover image The Jesse Tree

The Jesse Tree

Geraldine McCaughrean, , illus. by Bee Willey. . Eerdmans, $20 (93pp) ISBN 978-0-8028-5288-5

In this finely crafted anthology, McCaughrean (Gilgamesh the Hero ; God's Kingdom ) weaves lively retellings of Bible stories into a clever overarching narrative framework that will keep readers hooked. An old carpenter has begun carving a traditional Jesse tree—its branches a collection of symbols that show the ancestors of Jesus Christ—for a local church. Much to the cranky man's chagrin, an inquisitive boy who seems to be vacationing nearby with his family routinely interrupts his work. Explaining the various symbols to the boy and telling the stories behind them becomes as much a part of the man's daily undertaking as carving the wood. But when the tree is complete and the boy suddenly stops coming around, the carpenter (and readers) wonder if the young visitor may well have been an angel of inspiration. McCaughrean's tales have a leisurely pace and accessible language and tone. Her consistent inclusion of realistic, sometimes-testy exchanges between the carpenter and boy adds a level of immediacy and keeps the collection compelling. Willey's (McCaughrean's collaborator on several Myths of the World books) dramatic spot art toggles between Biblical and modern scenes, emphasizing the colorful scope of the carpenter's project. Ages 5-up. (Sept.)