October 03, 2013
(++++) EASY AND PLEASING
Folk Tale Classics: Jack and the Beanstalk; Rumpelstiltskin. By Paul Galdone. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. $8.99 each.
Digger the Dinosaur. By Rebecca Kai Dotlich. Pictures by Gynux. Harper. $16.99.
Paul Galdone’s illustrated versions of familiar fairy tales certainly do stand the test of time – even more so when he illustrates an unfamiliar version, as he does with Jack and the Beanstalk. This book, originally published in 1974, uses a verse variant of the familiar story of the boy, the beanstalk and the giant – one taken from a book published in 1807 and entitled The History of Mother Twaddle and the Marvelous Adventures of her Son Jack. Apart from giving the mother in the story a name and telling the whole tale in rhyme, this version has a few differences from the more-familiar ones, one of the most notable being that Jack does not have a cow to trade for magic beans: he has an actual coin, a sixpence that he is supposed to use to buy a goose, but that he instead uses to get one, not three, magic beans. And while there is indeed a nasty giant atop the inevitable beanstalk, there is also a fair maiden there, who helps Jack and at the end weds him. But there are no magical implements, and Jack disposes of the giant not by chopping down the beanstalk but by cutting off his head after he falls asleep from an overdose of wine that the maiden has given him. This is still a somewhat bloodthirsty story – many, many fairy tales actually are, but this one is somewhat less sanitized than most – but Galdone’s illustrations, in which the humans are pleasantly plump while the giant is huge and hulking, help make it a fine version even for younger children. Mother Twaddle even gets her goose dinner at the end. Kids who do not yet know Jack and the Beanstalk may do better with any of the numerous books giving the better-known version of the tale, but those who do know the story will especially enjoy this variation on it, and Galdone’s very fine illustrations are certainly a treat.
There are several versions of Rumpelstiltskin as well, but in this case, Galdone’s book, which dates to 1985, uses the best-known one and moderates the ending a bit, having the evil little man stamp his way into the ground and disappear, but without tearing himself in half. Galdone (1907-1986) was capable of a wide variety of illustrative styles, and in this late work he uses one that is quite different from the one he employed in Jack and the Beanstalk. Here the human characters have more reality about them, and the tears shed by the miller’s daughter are artfully handled, as are her expressions of determination when Rumpelstiltskin shows up to claim her child and she refuses to give the baby up. The little man himself is a pot-bellied dwarf with a huge nose and gigantic hat, a comical character except in what he demands of the young woman he helps. In truth, he is less unpleasant-looking than the king, whose harsh appearance is in line with his impossible demands of his soon-to-be-wife and whose haughty look at the marriage ceremony may make some thoughtful children wonder who is the real villain of the piece. The handsome reissues of these works from the Fairy Tale Classics series are most welcome, both for the quality of Galdone’s art and for the chance the books give parents to introduce a whole new generation of children to some timeless tales of wonder and enchantment.
Digger the Dinosaur is unlikely to capture the “timeless tale” label, but this very simple story of a cute young dino who doesn’t always listen as carefully as he should fits very well indeed into the “I Can Read!” book series, in which it appears at the very first level: “My First,” labeled as “ideal for sharing with emergent readers.” Children not quite ready to tackle the somewhat-more-complex Galdone-illustrated fairy tales will do just fine with Rebecca Kai Dotlich’s simple story, in very large print, with Gynux’s illustrations showing Digger as a sort of miniaturized, not-at-all-threatening T. Rex, and his friend Stego as an upright-walking mini-Stegosaurus. The two are ready to play baseball when Digger’s mom says he has to clean his room first, because it’s a mess. Digger thinks she says “yes,” he can go play, but Stego corrects him and offers to help. But distracted Digger puts his coat on a book, not a hook, and puts away a pile of stones, not a pile of bones – he just doesn’t pay attention to what he should be doing. However, he quickly corrects his mistakes, and Stego is perfectly good-humored about helping with the whole process, and then the two dinos both mis-hear what Digger’s mom says and get to have a good laugh about their misunderstanding before they go out to play. The book is a fine addition to the reading series in which it appears, and it makes a nice beginning-reader story that will help young children develop the confidence they need to move on to books such as Fairy Tale Classics and then to many, many books beyond.