Basic Plot Summary: A poor merchant finds shelter in a palace during a storm and finds himself under sentence of death by the beast who owns the palace. The merchant strikes a deal with the beast and is allowed to go home if one of his daughters will return. His youngest daughter, Beauty, returns to live with the beast and they become friends. When she becomes homesick, he allows her to return to her family, but makes her promise to come back in a week. Her vain and mean sisters conspire to keep her there longer and when she returns, the beast is dying of a broken heart. She cries over him, telling him she loves him and her tears break the spell on him, revealing him to be a handsome prince.
Although the basic plot of this story seems to originate from somewhere in the 16th century, the first published version of it was written in 1740 by French novelist Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve. This original version was a novella rather than a short story for children and there were lots of extraneous elements and details in it. Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont trimmed it down to the briefer version we’re all more familiar with today, which is summarized above. There have been several successful film versions of the story, including the Disney animated musical, which has in turn spawned a Broadway musical and an upcoming live action film adaptation.
Beauty and the Beast – I would recommend this version of the story for older readers, as it is very detailed and will take a significantly longer time than an average picture book. Author Max Eilenberg opens and closes the book with Beauty’s father telling the story of how his daughter met her husband. It’s a very different beast portrayed in Angela Barrett’s watercolor illustrations, too. Rather than the customary well-dressed man/animal with a sort of lion/buffalo hybrid face, Ms. Barrett gives us a towering hairy demonic creature, making his transformation even more drastic and makes Beauty’s love of who he is inside even more remarkable. (Candlewick Press, 2006)
Beauty and the Beast – This collaboration between husband and wife H. Chuku Lee and Pat Cummings tells the story from Beauty’s point of view and sets it in West Africa. The storyline sticks very close to the original tale, although the illustrations set it beautifully apart, filled with the exotic colors, fabrics and architecture of Mali. Ms. Cummings used watercolor, gouache, pencil and pastel to create the artwork and I loved taking my time to savor details. This is a gorgeous version of the story. (Amistad, 2014)
Beauty and the Beast – Author Ursula Jones focuses on the characters here and center stage is the contrast between Beauty, who is sweet and thoughtful and her two sisters, who are selfish and unkind. Actually, I would say that her sisters were portrayed more in exaggerated caricature, but most of that comes straight from the original story, so I can’t fault Ms. Jones. The artwork, from Sarah Gibb, is really lovely, with a few silhouette pictures done in black and white with splashes of color. (Albert Whitman and Company, 2012)
Bunny & the Beast – As the title suggests, the main character in this version is, indeed, a very lovely anthropomorphic white rabbit. Author Molly Coxe only changes the characters from human to animal, but pretty much everything else plays out exactly the same as in the original story. The beast here is a bull terrier which works particularly well when you think how frightening a bull terrier would be to a rabbit. Pamela Silin-Palmer’s oil paintings are full of fancy and flowers, with a troop of little storytelling frogs who appear on every page. A little strange, but definitely an interesting take on the original. (Random House, 2001)
And what did we learn? What I take away from Beauty and the Beast is that a person’s appearance does not always tell you who or what they are inside.