Review of My First Big Book: Jack and the Beanstalk

By | February 14, 2010

My First Big Book: Jack and the Beanstalk
By Jeff Macon, Michelle Macon, and Monica Chang
23 pp. Allen Chao/Innovage $20
ISBN 1-58805-807-7

One cannot help but admire the courage of any author who strives to follow in the footsteps of Tabart and Jacobs by reinterpreting this timeless classic.  Jeff Macon, Michelle Macon, and Monica Chang apparently could each muster up only a third of the requisite fortitude.  Although their combined courage may be admirable, the fruit of their efforts is not.

The cataclysmic failure of this work is clear from the very first page, where the protagonist’s ill-fated cow is rendered without an udder.  Do the authors fear that the sight of a cow’s udder might irrevocably shatter the innocence of their young readers?  Or perhaps they are attempting to pictorially answer the age-old question, why would Jack and his mother sell their cow when they could milk it and sell the milk instead?  Or perhaps they wished to imbue the cow with a unique aspect to explain the stranger’s eagerness to purchase it.  Alas, whatever their goal, this pictorial device fails to achieve it.

On the same page, we learn that Jack and his mother “were poor and lived in a small house.”  Again, the illustration fails the text, by depicting the “small house” with two chimneys and numerous gables and glass windows.  Later, on page 7, the reader is informed, “Jack went to his bedroom.”  Are the authors truly unaware that poor children in this era did not have their own bedrooms?

Speaking of page 7, how are we to reconcile the round, hollow window quartered by rough sticks of wood visible from inside the house on this page, with the square, glass, mullioned windows visible from the outside on page 2?

Who can forget the giant’s frightening eloquence, immortalized by Jacobs?

I smell the blood of an Englishman.
Be he ‘live, or be he dead,
I’ll grind his bones to make my bread.

The answer, it seems, is Macon, Macon and Chang, who replace Jacobs’s elegant words with the following pitiful verbiage:

“I smell a human,” shouted the ogre.

Later, the reader is informed, “Jack was thinking about climbing the beanstalk again, but he didn’t tell his mom.”  After all that effort protecting the sensitivities of its young readers, why do the authors impart the lesson that if a child is thinking about doing something his mother won’t like, he should be sure not to tell her?!

Upon spotting Jack stealing his golden-egg-laying hen and singing harp, the ogre delivers the entirely dissatisfying exclamation, “Thief!  I will get you.”

Readers would be well-advised to stay away from this edition, lest they find themselves tempted to direct a similar exclamation at its authors for the theft of the real Jack and the Beanstalk and for this wholly inadequate replacement.

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