One Beastly Beast by Garth Nix

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One Beastly Beast by Garth Nix

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Category: Confident Readers
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: As wildly imaginative as you'd expect, these are four tales guaranteed to entertain newly confident readers. There are mad adventures, terrible jokes, heroic children and a good dollop of the ever-so-slightly surreal.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 224 Date: April 2007
Publisher: Harper Collins Children's Books
ISBN: 978-0007234097

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Garth brings his Nixiness to newly confident readers for the first time in this collection of four imaginative tales. In Blackbread the Pirate, a kind of Time Bandits skit, young Peter finds himself drawn down through the sewers into the Neverworld, as he tries to retrieve his DVDs, stolen by a ragtag bunch of piratical rats. In The Princess and the Beastly Beast Princess Rinda does battle with a monster that is scarier on the outside than it is on the inside, while her royal but ever-distracted parents are variously composing music and spells. In Serena and the Sea Serpent, it takes super-brainy Serena to cut through the mercenary scheming of foolish adults and sort out the sea monster "problem" once and for all.

My favourite tale was Bill the Inventor. Any story that begins like this...

When Bill was a very small baby he was found on the street, wrapped in a really big banana skin.

... just begs to be read, don't you think?

The stories all have the trademark Nix combination of realism and magic. My favourite, Bill the Inventor, is set in a children's home as the young protagonist waits for a family who will like him enough to adopt him. But nobody even blinks when prospective parents include pirates, wizards and aliens with thirty-three eyes. Serena gets on everybody's nerves with her precocious, miss know-it-all ways, but nobody is surprised when a penguin comes home for tea. This blending of preposterous events in realistic settings appeals greatly to newly confident readers, as does the child-as-hero motif. There's a level of ever-so-slightly naughty humour there which allies itself to the fantasy role-play games four to eight-year-olds love, and Nix has tapped into it exceedingly well.

There's nothing so ambitious that children will need to stretch too much to read, but there are some clever touches which will advance their understanding of the possibilities of language. For instance, when Hodges, the Rats Royal Navy Armourer, brings Peter his uniform, he recites a mnemonic to himself within the text, using the familiar rhythms of doggerel and nursery rhymes:

Here's a coat of best superfine with one-inch brass buttons on a nautical line; a linen shirt somewhat patched with a detachable collar that's practically a match; a pair of double-seated britches made of wool that sadly itches; two pairs of stockings, one silk, one not; a pair of sea-boots with holes where they've been shot; a broad leather belt with steel buckle showing faint remains of gilt; and a broad-brimmed hat of salt-stained felt.


There really isn't enough stuff of good quality going out for this age group. I don't know why, but I do wonder sometimes if it's one of the reasons Roald Dahl - aside from being quite as wonderful as he is - is so enduringly popular. There simply isn't enough choice. One Beastly Beast isn't quite as creative or quite as deliciously naughty, but it's still head and shoulders above most of the competition. Write some more for this age group please, your Nixiness. Recommended.

My thanks to Harper Collins for sending the book.

Newly confident readers who enjoy the slightly surreal could also try Joan Aiken's The Winter Sleepwalker and, of course, Roald Dahl's George's Marvellous Medicine. We also enjoyed To Hold the Bridge by Garth Nix.

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