Zombierella: Fairy Tales Gone Bad / Theodora Hendrix and the Monstrous League of Monsters

Zombierella: Fairy Tales Gone Bad
Joseph Coelho, illustrated by Freya Hartas
Walker Books

As a massive fan of fractured fairy tales, I couldn’t wait to read this and wow! do I love it. Told in the form of a verse novel by performance poet Joseph Coelho, it’s quite simply utterly brilliant, dark, funny and splendidly subversive to boot.

The Grimm version is the one Joseph has chosen as his starting point and right from the start he hooks readers in, holding them enthralled throughout as the plot twists and turns in unexpected ways.

We learn that our heroine has got her name because she carries her biological mother’s ashes with her in a locket. Now she is forced to live with her foul FAKE mother and her equally FAKE beautiful sisters who are living off the inheritance that’s rightfully Cinderella’s. Her one true trusted friend is her horse, Lumpkin but early in the story, he ceases to be and the poor girl has to bury him. But not before she comes upon a piece of drifting paper. It’s a flyer informing the reader of three balls on consecutive nights, on the final of which the prince will choose his bride. She assumes that said prince is moving into the old abandoned mansion atop the hill on the edge of Grimmsville.

Needless to say those FAKE sisters of hers are eager to go to the ball

but can’t abide the thought of Cinderella doing so and as well as leaving her with instructions to clean the house in their absence, they leave a trap for her at the top of the stairs. A trap that causes her demise. Enter The Fairy of Death and Cinderella becomes Zombierella, able to go to the ball, but for three nights only …

I’ll say no more on the tale but merely urge you to get hold of the book and relish every detail, gory and otherwise. Equally relishable are Freya Hartas’ illustrations that add to both the gloomy atmosphere and the humour; her use of space on the page is superb too

and make sure you look under the cover flaps.

I’m eagerly anticipating any further fairy tales Joseph chooses to turn bad with his magic pen.
More shivers and giggles in:

Theodora Hendrix and the Monstrous League of Monsters
Jordan Kopy, illustrated by Chris Jevons
Walker Books

Here’s a terrific mix of monsters, mystery, horror and humour: it all begins ‘just shy of Halloween’ in an abandoned graveyard cemetery on the edge of Appleton. There in an unmarked grave, seemingly just waiting to be discovered lies a small squalling human. And discovered it is by one George Hendrix, a zombie (along with his vampire cat, Bandit). What do they do with said baby? They take it to a mansion – occupied by the Monstrous League of Monsters (MLM) where Georgie is assured the infant will be well cared for. The carers are a group comprising a mummy, ‘Mummy’ to the infant, a vampire, a werewolf and cubs, a witch, the skeleton butler, an operatic ghost, a crow and more – I wonder …

They name the babe Theodora and surprisingly, fall for her charms, but she must be kept secret.

Full speed forward a decade and there’s Theodora thriving and loving life along with her loyal arachnid associate, a dapper tarantula named Sherman.
But then mysterious anonymous threatening letters start to arrive. Seemingly somebody or something has found out about the group and is determined to expose them and their secret to HQ. Theodora is equally determined to discover the identity of the letter writer; so too are the others.

But Theodora decides to fly solo and hatches her own plan. Can she (along with her very first human friend), solve the mystery or are her monster family members doomed to rot imprisoned in Transylvania? And what of her own fate if she succeeds? …

Told by a mysterious narrator this is a smashing story, with some laugh-out loud moments, an abundance of family love and loyalty that shows how diverse family and friendships can be.

Great for reading aloud or solo reading and made all the more fun by Chris Jevons delicious black and white illustrations

Fearless Fairy Tales

Fearless Fairy Tales
Konnie Huq & James Kay, illustrated by Rikin Parekh
Piccadilly Press

If like me you’re fond of fractured fairy tales, then this subversive collection of seventeen is a must have. Even the titles made this reviewer splutter with giggles and as for the important note before the contents page, I’ll say no more.

On closer reading it’s probably true to say the stories have been not so much fractured as entirely pulverised, pounded and then reconstituted adding new magic to the mangled mores of old, replacing them with modern reinventions for a more demanding, “I can change the world” generation.

I couldn’t resist turning first to Trumplestiltskin and sure enough there is the easily identifiable ‘Trumple’ hailing from the United States of Kraziness. Said little man is obsessed with gold and power mad. No need for me to regale the whole sorry story – it had me in stitches throughout – but having thrown the king and his daughter, Princess Marla into a dark dungeon, an aide lets slip that Marla can spin straw into gold.

Needless to say, Trumple cannot resist making the girl an offer and the princess being a pretty savvy person, eventually manages to out-trumple the Trumple. (Love the postscript.)
Rumplestiltskin has been my favourite fairy tale since as a youngster, I heard the late Sara Corrin tell it at a book event. She’s in my head narrating this new one even now.

There’s also Sleeping Brainy (‘a flipping genius!’) who aspires to become Chancellor of the Exchequer and does so – against all the odds.

Absolutely cracking is Mouldysocks and the Three Bears in which he of the stinky foot attire is computer crazy. This almost causes his complete undoing when Mummy Bear, Other Mummy Bear and the little baby bear return from their forest foray –

that and the disgusting pong emanating from a certain pair of socks bad enough to put Baby Bear off his porridge. All ends happily however with everyone, including Mouldysocks (newly named) living spotlessly ever after.

It’s impossible to talk about every story in this review but I must  mention that The Princess and the Snog is written entirely in verse. Herein we meet pink-haired Pandora and the frog that catches her punchball when it lands in his boggy residence. Does she want to grant him a kiss – err … not quite and the outcome is, ‘A very wise rule for a mister or miss: / You choose who you / hug and you choose / who you kiss.” No coercive control for this wily young miss.

Finally, another princess – Zareen by name – is only a princess because that’s what her stepmother Tania (a goodie rather than the usual kind) calls her. Actually she’s a normal girl residing in the ‘magical suburb of Crystal Palace and dead keen to follow the latest school playground craze and get a Zoom Peashooter (basically just an overpriced paper straw). Hence the title The Princess and the Peashooter.

She ends up having got her mitts on one, with a rather funky eyepatch due to an errant flying shot – not hers – and being the leader of the anti-peashooter side for the next school debate. Bring on the Zoom Bands, say I. Much less dangerous, or maybe not …

Make sure you read this corker of a book right past THE END, including the small print. I’m wondering who would score higher on the enjoyment scale, team Konnie and James and illustrator Rikin, or readers who guffaw their way through its pages, relishing every satirical story,

Reading Beauty

Reading Beauty
Deborah Underwood and Meg Hunt
Chronicle Books

If, like this reviewer, you enjoy fractured fairy tales of the feminist kind, then this latest one from the Interstellar Cinderella team, Deborah Underwood, who supplies the pacey rhyming narrative and Meg Hunt, the illustrator, will surely appeal.

Princess Lex, along with the majority of inhabitants of the planetoid, is a bibliophile. Lex’s room is bursting with books and she reads at every hour of the day and night. She’s even trained Prince her puppy to acquire reading material for her.

On her fifteenth birthday however, she wakes to discover all her books have disappeared.

Her parents explain that when she was born there was a birthday celebration but one fairy was convinced she’d not been invited. Furious: she’d uttered a curse to take effect on Lex’s fifteenth birthday;

the princess would get a paper cut causing her to fall into a death-like sleep.

A life without books? It doesn’t bear thinking about so Lex resolves to find the fairy and make her lift the curse.

With the assistance of Prince and a bot, she acquires and reads appropriate books to help her find the fairy’s lair, and another to be able to land. But that fairy isn’t finished yet: she’s determined to have one more try.

Happily though Lex outsmarts the fairy but the plot takes a surprise twist or two before reaching its satisfying ’happily ever after’ that will especially please book lovers. So too will Meg Hunt’s lively, futuristic, patterned, mixed media illustrations – love those end papers.

A good one to add to any primary class fairy tale collection.

Sleeping Beauty

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Sleeping Beauty: A mid-century fairy tale
David Roberts and Lynn Roberts-Maloney
Pavilion Books
The super-talented brother and sister team, David Roberts (illustrator) and Lynn Roberts-Maloney have created another in their classy series of classic fairy tales, setting it in the 1950s initially, and then one thousand years in the future.
Now I’m hugely enthusiastic about re-workings/reinventions of fairy tales and traditional tales and had high expectations of this one – expectations that were more than met.
We first see Annabel in the 1950s as a science fiction loving young girl with a fascination about the future, living with her two aunts Flora and Rosalind, completely oblivious to the curse that had been placed upon her during her first birthday celebrations by a jealous and malicious witch, Morwenna.

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The curse – that she will be pricked by a needle and die before her sixteenth birthday – is kept at bay by her aunts with the death sentence commuted to a thousand year sleep.
We then return to the time leading up to the all-important birthday when a mysterious visitor leaves a present for Annabel on the doorstep: a present that results in a pricked finger as foretold by Morwenna,

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who indeed has delivered the gift, whereupon the young girl falls into a deep sleep.
Both Rosalind and Flora take transformative action; the former becoming an ever-growing rose bush …

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which forms a protective shield around the house; the latter (having written down her ward’s story and calling it Sleeping Beauty) becomes an ever-shining light that guards Annabel while she sleeps.
Fast forward one thousand years to another young girl, Zoe, with an interest in all things past and in particular the history of the giant rose tree. Researching in the library (hooray they still exist!) she comes upon a copy of Sleeping Beauty …

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and discovers its publication date – exactly 1000 years ago to the very day.
Can she finally break that dark spell and release the Sleeping Beauty?
Elegant design and superbly detailed illustrations grace every page of this wonderful book and the story itself is a brilliantly clever fusion of old and new.
A splendid gift to give on a birthday, at Christmas or indeed any time of the year: it’s a book to return to again and again.

Bother with Babes

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Wild Child
Steven Salerno
Abrams Children’s Books
Time was the biggest and strongest ruled the jungle; but that was before the arrival of a new creature: a small soft-skinned one with just two teeth. It terrorized the other animals: it was …

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Time to “tame that wild thing”, decide the other animals, sick and tired of all the grabbing, pinching, pooping, pulling, kicking, biting, hitting and howling.
Various taming strategies ensue: Giraffe feeds it leaves, Elephant sprays it with water,

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Vulture perches it upon a tall tree, Anteater feeds it bugs, Hippo rolls it in the mud and Lion roars at it, all of which only serve to fuel its fury.

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Gorilla however, tries an altogether different tack. – a much gentler one and after some sweet banana and a clean up, followed by a cuddle, the holy terror is a wild child no longer, it’s a mild child, well temporarily.

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After which it’s a case of ‘let the wild rumpus’ commence … At least the animals are smiling now.

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Dramatic, action packed cartoon style jungly scenes combined with punchy prose make for a storytime treat with plenty of potential for wild joining in – vocal and physical.
Fun, fast, forceful and furious.

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The Baby That Roared
Simon Puttock and Nadia Shireen
Nosy Crow
Mr and Mrs Deer are desperate for a baby and when they discover one on their doorstep: it seems their dream has at last come true.

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However, the infant starts to cry, or rather ROAR and no matter what they offer, it won’t stop. Time to call in the reserves suggests Mrs Deer. First to come is Uncle Duncan. His warm milk suggestion doesn’t produce the desired outcome but Uncle Duncan is nowhere to be seen. And, there’s a decided aroma around the place.
Auntie Agnes is next with advice: a nappy change is her suggestion and off go the Deers to collect nappies, towels and ointment. They’re soon back, but where is Auntie Agnes?
The roaring continues so Doctor Fox is consulted. His arrival is swift but his action ineffectual: Still the baby roars but as for the doc, he’s nowhere to be seen.
Thank goodness then for Granny Bear who decides a burping will do the trick.

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She applies several hearty pats and then …

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And out come the missing helpers (along with a whole lot of gunk!).

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Granny bear of course can see what delighted readers will have known from the outset: “That’s not a dear little baby!” … “That is a LITTLE MONSTER!” she cries. And off it dashes. Time to get a pet …
Nadia Shireen’s wickedly subversive humour (first evident in Good Little Wolf) is perfect for Simon Puttock’s tongue-in-cheek, fractured fairytale (a re-issue). I love the way all we see of the consumed characters are the odd accessories – a hat, a scarf, a stethoscope.
The repeat phrases: “ “A baby?” said (character’s name) “A dear little baby? I shall come at once!”; and ‘… when Mr and Mrs Deer came back – how very peculiar! — had disappeared, and the baby was still roaring!’ are used to great effect and listeners soon take great delight in joining in with them
Enormously engaging and imminently re-readable.

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