Sunday, 20 October 2013

Book of Beasts

I think I may have mentioned before my complicated relationship with a book called 'The Unexplained' that could be found in Cambridge Central Children's Library in the late 70s. I never actually took it out of the library; it was far too scary. I nerved myself up to read snatches of it only within the safety of the book shelves. Having spent 20 minutes or so sidling up to it via the library's tub of old Beanos and Dandys I would feel brave enough to tackle what Lay Within:
First  the ho-hum every day Unexplained of the Loch Ness monster and the Abombinable Snowman (EXPLAINED as just a bear this week? pah.) then through the slightly spookier poltergeist and apparition section, and finally to the most terrifying part of all; the grainy photos said to show sites of spontaneous human combustion. Am I the only child to have spent a disproportionate amount of my pre-teen years worrying that I might spontaneously combust at any moment? If not then 'The Unexplained' has some explaining to do.

The 'Book of Beasts' by Giles Sparrow, illustrated by Colin Ashcroft and Lee Gibbons seems altogether softer stuff to me. But since we were sent a copy a week or two ago it has been exerting a strange pull on Bill who has been sidling up to read sections of it with slightly fake insouciance. Divided into five 'beast' sections including Monsters of the Gods, Shapeshifters and (personal favourite) the Undead, the book is a lavishly illustrated glossy guide to the fancies and foibles of a range of monstrous beings. Bill reads it over breakfast with a nervy laugh and occasional question. "Who would you rather fight Minotaur or Gorgon?" or " Black that like real?" It's not too terrifying. There's a fair balance between humour, myth and helpful top fighting tips (make sure you're carrying bullets dipped in white ash if you're tackling a Skinwalker for instance). Plus frankly the swish full colour spreads can hold none of the fear of a small 1970s black and white photo of still smouldering slippers hidden in a dense page of text. The production values of this book are just too high for nightmares.

This is not in truth a book for me but I'm not who it's for either. Should you have an 8 yr old with a penchant for facts in top trump digestible chunks, zombies, Percy Jackson and ilicit watching of dodgy 'Slender Man' myth videos on Youtube they'll love it. Nicely done TickTock; Bill's a fan. He may even be ready for 'The Unexplained' next should you wish to reboot...

'Book of Beasts' by Giles Sparrow, illustrated by Colin Ashcroft and Lee Gibbons, published by TickTock. isbn 978-1-84898-896-5

With thanks to the publishers for a review copy. Our opinions are our own.

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