Wednesday, October 29, 2014

A Bean, A Stalk and a Boy Named Jack, by William Joyce

Proving that once again the ridiculous is often sublime, author-illustrator-film-maker William Joyce returns with a new book for young readers, A Bean, A Stalk and a Boy Named Jack.  This is Joyce’s amusing and endearing take on the Jack and the Beanstalk fairy tale … and perhaps another story or two, thrown in.

Joyce provides the narrative this time, allowing newcomer Kenny Callicutt to provide the illustrations.  The text is Joyce as his breezy, irreverent best.  There’s a drought in the kingdom where small boy Jack lives, resulting in a severe problem: the monarch’s pinky is now stinky.  It’s up to a small boy, an even smaller bean, and a very large stalk to travel upwards to a land of giants (including a rather endearing young giant in his bath), and make the world right once more.  Delivered in a sort of staccato, wise-guy meter, A Bean, A Stalk and a Boy Named Jack is tons of fun for the younger children of all ages.

A special word here about illustrator Callicutt: though his style is similar to Joyce, it is completely his own.  The figures have a wonderful, toy-like quality (as if Mother Goose created a line of Lego toys), and are drawn with a pastel-toned minimalism.  Callicutt first came to Moonbot, Joyce’s company, as an apprentice, and this is his first picture book.  We hope it’s the first of many.

Moonbot, of course, is Joyce’s imaginarium located in Shreveport, Louisiana.  After years as the most creative and light-hearted children’s’ book double-threat in the industry, Joyce created Moonbot Studios to nurture new talents and create extraordinary entertainment for an array of media platforms. Moonbot makes not only books, but apps, games and anything else that is a medium to carry narrative.  If you think that Joyce has created a small-scale Disney down-south, you would be right – but one more nimble, daring, irreverent and, most of all, directly connected to its legion of fans.  Expect great things from Moonbot in the years to come.

Like much of the Joycean oeuvre, it would seem that A Bean, A Stalk and a Boy Named Jack is tied into a larger, mythic universe.  Jack holds a staff much like Jack Frost from Joyce’s Guardians of Childhood series – are they the same person?  The Princess (and we must always have a Princess) is named Jill … are there possibilities there?  And will this book open up an entire series of Joyce’s fractured fairly tales?  We can only wait and see.

On top of the language-play and delightful visuals, it is always a pleasure for your correspondent to welcome the annual offering from William Joyce.  It is an indication that the holiday season is upon us, and that things will always turn out right in the end.

Even if your pinky is stinky.

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