What on earth could possibly be new about the familiar nursery rhyme The House That Jack Built? First published in 1755, the poem was probably based on an ancient Hebrew chant from the 16th century. Now Caldecott-winning artist Simms Taback gives new life to the old favorite, transforming the rhyme, through his lively, modern illustrations, into a humorous feast of color and detail for eyes of all ages. Silliness abounds here, both in picture and text, with many notes and labels added to various illustrations, like the words of warning on the copyright page: "The artwork was done in mixed media by a mixed-up person" and "Any resemblance of these characters to people living or dead is completely accidental or was done on purpose." Taback's media and methods are indeed a merry mix, with elements of collage along with text often made to appear as cutout letters like those a kidnapper might use.
Each spread consists of a new character introduced on the left-hand page ("This is the cheese," or "This is the rat") followed by the remainder of the cumulative rhyme on the right-hand page, accompanied by an increasingly crowded view of the house that Jack built. The page featuring "This is the cat" serves as a good example of why Taback's book will appeal to readers of all ages. A huge orange-striped alley cat dominates the spread, accompanied by small, labeled mug shots of other cats, including a Siamese ("It needs lots of attention and love"), the Cat in the Hat, Felix the cat and a masked Halloween cat. Taback's brilliant artwork can be directly linked to his background as a graphic designer. He designed and illustrated the first McDonald's Happy Meal box, so he knows how to appeal to kids in innovative ways! Bits of advertising frequently appear in his books check out the many tools used to build Jack's house shown on the back cover, along with prices and advertising descriptions.
The surprise guest at the end of the book is an illustration of the artist himself, accompanied by his many tools of the trade. Taback's book is a rare jewel. The longer you linger, the more humorous details you'll notice. Perhaps it should be re-titled "This is the House That Simms Built."