Indigo Wilde and the Creatures at Jellybean Crescent by Pippa Curnick

I love it when I find a book that my daughter enjoys just as much as I do. Sometimes I’ll read a book that I think is really great and then we read it together, but she doesn’t enjoy it as much as I hoped. This wasn’t the case with Indigo Wilde and the Creatures at Jellybean Crescent. I was half-way through the book myself and she saw it on my bedside table and asked if we could read it. Like me, she was hooked straight away and kept asking for one more chapter.

Indigo Wilde lives at 47 Jellybean Crescent, with her little brother, Quigley, and an assortment of strange and magical creatures. Like all of the creatures at Jellybean Crescent, Indigo and Quigley were discovered by Bertram and Philomena Wilde in unknown lands, and adopted. Their parents often disappear off to known and unknown lands and send creatures back to Jellybean Crescent. A purrmaid called Fishkins, a llamacorn called Graham, two yetis called Olli and Umpf, and a couple of snortlephants, are all residents at number 47. The most recent arrival has just escaped from the crate that it was sent in and the note from their parents makes no sense. Indigo and Quigley must track down the new arrival before it, and the other creatures, destroy their house. Just when things couldn’t get any worse, the terrifying Madam Grey starts asking questions and demanding to see their parents. Can Indigo and Quigley capture the creature and get rid of Madam Grey in the process?

Indigo Wilde and the Creatures at Jellybean Crescent is wild and wonderful story, filled with amazing creatures, sillyness, and laughs galore. It is such a fun book to read aloud, as Pippa’s language is wonderful, there’s a large cast of characters (so heaps of voices that you can do), and it’s really funny. The book is bursting with Pippa’s bright illustrations, which add another layer of humour to the story. It is a beautifully produced hardback book that feels really special to hold and read.

It’s also a book about being different and unique. Each of the residents of number 47 are all a bit different, and didn’t fit in in their herd or flock because they were the wrong colour, size or shape. Number 47 becomes a sanctuary for them all, where they feel like they belong, and won’t be stared at or bullied. Indigo and Quigley are unique too. Indigo looks mostly human, apart from her horns and stripe of rainbow hair. Quigley was found by Bertram and Philomena, when he was a tiny baby, in a dragon’s nest halfway up an erupting volcano (he has the wings and tail of a dragon). The dragon’s roars had been so loud that Quigley is now deaf. Indigo and Quigley communicate with each other using sign language. I really enjoyed that aspect of the story.

I absolutely love Pippa Curnick’s illustrations! Her characters are bursting with personality, especially the weird and wonderful creatures. I don’t think I can pick a favourite character because they’re all so great. There are lots of little details to notice in the illustrations, from the pictures on the walls to the creatures lurking under the kitchen table. My daughter and I spent quite a while poring over the cross-section of the house, looking at the creatures in the different rooms. I really like the colour palette that Pippa has used throughout the book, as it really makes the characters leap off the pages.

I loved meeting Indigo Wilde and her family and I can’t wait to read the next book in the series. Indigo Wilde is already a firm favourite in our house and I know that the kids at my school will love her too. I already know that Indigo Wilde and the Creatures at Jellybean Crescent is a great read aloud, and it would be perfect for Years 1-4.

The Beast and the Bethany by Jack Meggitt-Phillips

‘Ebenezer Tweezer was a terrible man with a wonderful life’

From this first line Jack Meggitt-Phillips had me hook, line and sinker. I knew straight away that I was going to love this book! I was pretty convinced I would love it just from the amazing cover. Those sharp, dripping teeth and the surly looking girl on the cover really draw you in and make you curious about what the book is about. This is one of my top middle grade books of 2020.

Ebenezer Tweezer is 511 years old but he doesn’t look a day over 20. His youthful good looks come courtesy of the beast that he keeps in the attic of his fifteen-storey home. As long as he feeds this grotesque beast he will continue to get a special formula that keeps him from ageing. Ebenezer feeds the beast all manner of things and the beast vomits out items in return. Birds and even Ebenezer’s favourite cat have been devoured by the beast. So when the beast requests to eat a child Ebenezer must find one for it. Ebenezer decides that the beast needs to eat a horrible child, one that really deserves to be eaten. Along comes Bethany. However Bethany is not quite what he expected, and soon Ebenezer starts to have second thoughts. The beast demands to be fed and he wants to eat Bethany, whether she likes it or not.

The Beast and the Bethany is a deliciously dark tale that made me chuckle with glee. It is a story that is a bucketload of fun but also has a whole lot of heart. I loved the gory details but I also loved seeing how Ebenezer and Bethany’s relationship developed throughout the story. I found myself smiling every time I read more and I couldn’t wait to get back to it. Everything about the story is brilliant, from the storytelling and dialogue to the characters.

I love both Bethany and Ebenezer. Bethany has a surly, confronting exterior but she’s an orphan who’s had a pretty rubbish life. She treats others as the world has treated her. Ebenezer has led a long, privileged life, with all of the money and things he could want, but he’s also trapped serving a horrible beast. Bethany is the horrible child that Ebenezer needs to keep the beast satisfied and Ebenezer is a way out of the orphanage for Bethany (but she’s still not happy about it). This is certainly not rich-man-adopts-adorable-orphan like Annie, but their relationship is kind of cute. The beast himself is quite entertaining and some of its lines made me laugh, especially when its describing the type of child it wants to eat.

Isabelle Follath’s illustrations are the perfect match for Jack’s story. She perfectly captures Ebenezer and Bethany’s personalities and the tone of the story. I love the way that she has captured Ebenezer ageing throughout the story. The cover, designed by Matt Jones, is my favourite cover of 2020. I love the way that the beast’s teeth shine, as well as the globs of drool that drip out of its mouth. You can tell from looking at Bethany on the front cover that she is not just going to sit back and get eaten.

The Beast and the Bethany would be an amazing read aloud for Years 5-8 and a great class set for the same level. I would love to have the chance to read it aloud as the language is so rich and the characters have such clear voices in my head. It would be a fantastic audiobook. I was very excited to see that there is a sequel coming next year and I can’t wait to read it.

I Just Ate My Friend by Heidi McKinnon

Some picture books you know are going to be brilliant even before you open the covers.  As soon as I saw the front cover of Heidi McKinnon’s new picture book, I Just Ate My Friend, with the startled monster staring out at the reader, I knew it was going to be a winner.  It makes me laugh out loud every time I read it and I can’t wait to share it with kids!


I Just Ate My Friend is one of those fantastic picture books that invites the reader to be a part of story.  The main character, a yellow monster with bulbous eyes, addresses the reader saying ‘I just ate my friend.  He was a good friend, but now he’s gone.’  The monster then sets off to find a new friend, only to find that he’s too small, too big or too scary to be anyone’s friend.  Just when he thinks he has found a new friend disaster strikes.

I love, love, love this book!  Kids will beg I Just Ate My Friend to be read again and again.  Heidi’s text and illustrations are simple but they combine to tell a very funny story.  Rather than a lot of white space behind the monsters in the story Heidi has made it night time so the background is a night sky covered with stars.  This makes the reader focus on the big, colourful monsters that take up most of the page.  The yellow monster has large, expressive eyes, so you can tell how he feels.  Understandably the yellow monster is rather distraught that he has eaten his friend and he gets increasingly worried that he won’t find a new friend.  You see how happy the monster is when he does find a friend, only for this to be horribly ripped from his grasp.

If you love the dark humour of Jon Klassen’s This is Not My Hat you’ll love I Just Ate My Friend.

Interview with Darkmouth author Shane Hegarty

Shane Hegarty is the author of the awesome Darkmouth series.  It’s full of legendary creatures of all kinds and there are plenty of laughs.  You may have been one of the lucky people who got to hear Shane talk about his books when he visited the top half of the country last month (I’m very jealous!).  The third book in the series, Chaos Rising, is soon to be released here in NZ and I got the chance to interview Shane about the series.

  • What inspired you to write the Darkmouth series?

I ran out of excuses not to do it! From a very young age I’d wanted to write a story of fantasy and adventure, with scary bits, jokes, an ordinary hero in extraordinary circumstances. In the end, I wanted to write a story for my own kids that gave me the focus to make the relationships the heart of it even as their town is under attack.

  • What 3 words would you use to describe the series?

Fun. Fantastic. Freaky.

  • What would your Legend Hunter name be?

Shane the Easily Spooked.

  • Which of your characters do you most relate to?

I relate to a few in different ways. Finn has to become a Legend Hunter even though he doesn’t feel strong enough, and I recognize his fear. His friend Emmie is fearless, and she’s the flip side of things – how I would actually like to be. Finally, Finn’s dad Hugo is a but pushy to his son, and I guess I recognise that even if I don’t want to be a pushy dad!

  • Which Legend would you least want to encounter?

There’s a Hydra in Darkmouth 3: Chaos Descends, and I really wouldn’t like to meet any of its heads on a dark night. Or a bright day. Or at any time.

  • The series is being adapted in to an animated movie.  Will you have any part in the creation of the movie?

I’ve seen some of the early drawings and story ideas they’re working on in Hollywood, and it looks amazing. There are brilliant directors involved – Dave Pimentel (Moana) and Doug Sweetland (Storks) – so I know they’ll do a great job. I’m having fun watching it being put together.

  • What books do you recommend for readers who love your series?

If you haven’t read Derek Landy’s amazing Skulduggery Pleasant, they’re so good. I always tell readers of my own favourite book, Douglas Adams’s the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and I’m always delighted when a reader is inspired to pick that up because they always love it.

Fire in the Sea by Myke Bartlett

The wonderful people at Text Publishing (based in Melbourne) launched a fantastic new award for authors across Australia and New Zealand a few years ago, called The Text Prize for Young Adult and Children’s Writing.  This prize has introduced me to some of my favourite authors, including Richard Newsome and Leanne Hall.  Last year they chose another very deserving winner of the prize, Myke Bartlett with his book Fire in the Sea, which has just been released.

Sadie is sixteen and bored with life in Perth. It’s summer, and lazing on the beach in the stifling heat with her cousins and Tom is a drag. Then something comes out of the sea.

Dark menacing forms attack an old man, leaving him for dead and Sadie wracking her brains to understand what she saw. Then there’s a mysterious inheritance, a strange young man called Jake and a horned beast trampling the back yard.

Sadie finds herself caught in the middle of an ancient conflict that is nearing its final battle, a showdown that threatens to engulf Perth and all those she loves in a furious tsunami.

Fire in the Sea is a story of gods, monsters, curses, immortality, war and the normal teenagers who get caught in the middle.  Myke Bartlett grabs you within the first few pages and you get swept away in the story, not wanting to surface until you get to the very end.  It’s one of those stories you want to devour all in one go because the writing is just so good and the action never lets up.  There’s something for everyone in the story, from mythical creatures and body-swapping gods, to a genie-like demon who grants wishes and a lost civilization.  There is plenty of violence and blood and guts to keep the guys interested, especially when the Minotaur is involved.

I love how Myke has weaved mythology into the story.  I can see Fire in the Sea appealing those teens that have enjoyed the Percy Jackson series because of the way that Myke brings gods and monsters into the present day.  Even though you don’t see the gods, you get the impression that they’re watching everything happen and will intervene if or when the time comes.  The feel of the story also reminded me a little of Maurice Gee’s Under the Mountain.

Sadie is a strong, feisty heroine.  She doesn’t seem to care what other people think of her and is prepared to do what she thinks is right to save the people she loves.  She get caught in the middle of a war that they didn’t want to be involved in, but she handles the situation incredibly well.

The ending of Fire in the Sky left me wanting to read more about Sadie, Jake and the ancient ones, so here’s hoping Myke continues their story.  If you’re looking for a fast-paced story, filled with action, adventure, fantasy and mythology, Fire in the Sky is the perfect book.

4 out of 5 stars

Picture Book Nook: Phoebe and the Night Creatures by Jenny Hessell and Donovan Bixley

Phoebe’s in bed but needs to go to the toilet.  There’s only one problem – there’s a wolf under her bed.  Her mum tells her to take the wolf with her and off they go to the toilet.  Along the way she meets a cast of interesting characters, including a stinky troll, a scary shark, and a giant,  who all follow her to the bathroom.  Are all these monsters following her or is it just her imagination?

Phoebe and the Night Creatures is one of those picture books where the words and the pictures are a perfect match.  Jenny Hessell’s story is full of the monsters that children create in their imagination and they are brought to life with Donovan Bixley’s stunning illustrations.  Jenny has created Phoebe, a girl who isn’t afraid of trolls or ghosts and Donovan has portrayed this courage in his illustrations, particularly on the cover of the book.  Donovan Bixley is my favourite New Zealand illustrator, because of the way he uses light and colour, making his illustrations glow on the page.  This book has really allowed him to have some fun and use his imagination to create these night creatures.  Another aspect of the book I really enjoyed was the design, which is also done by Donovan.  The layout of the words adds extra enjoyment to the story, with some words looking spooky or stinky.  Phoebe and the Night Creatures is probably not a book to read before bed, but one to share with those children who aren’t scared easily and are fascinated with monsters.