Lush, intricate oil paintings distinguish this retelling of Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont’s 18th-century version of the familiar fairy tale.
While the Beast is present, lurking behind Beauty, on the jacket, the intricately detailed paintings do far more to emphasize beauty than beastliness. Almost each recto holds an illustration, laden with decorative embellishments in setting, characters’ dress, and the material culture of the setting, while the facing versos are text-heavy with Mahlon Craft’s retelling, which is laid out with ornate historiated initials. Exceptions to this design arise at full, wordless double-page spreads punctuating the verbal narration at key points in the tale: when Beauty first rides to Beast’s castle; when she enjoys the splendors there; when she cradles the near-dead Beast in her arms. These moments highlight Beauty as the protagonist even though Beast is the one who transforms at book’s end, when his blond, rosy appearance confirms an all-white cast of characters. Indeed, apart from his jacket appearance, he appears in beast form only three times. This speaks to a pacing problem in the book: lengthy blocks of text covering lots of narrative ground seem at odds with the finite moments depicted in the facing illustrations. While the gorgeous intricacy of the illustrations invites poring over, readers may miss details from the text that are excluded from the art.
A beautiful retelling that may well daunt readers accustomed to the far shorter picture-book texts of today. (Picture book. 6-10)