The Beast and the Bethany - Jack Meggitt-Phillips, ill.by Isabelle Follath
The best of children's literature here, and I don't say that lightly. This is my type of book...the type of book that captivated me as a young reader many years ago, and that I have no doubt will do the same for many a child who is lucky enough to pick it up today. Dahl-esque in its dark humour and malevolent villain, but likewise in the kindness and goodness that are ultimately shown by the characters as the story progresses, it captivated me now as an adult reader, reminding me of what I loved about children's books. The 'teaser' chapters I read to my class have them begging to get their hands on it!
Telling the story of 511 year-old Ebeneezer and his struggle to keep up with the ever-increasing demands made by 'Beast', resident in his attic, the story is full of laugh-out-loud humorous moments - I really did giggle aloud in the staffroom whlist reading the first chapter! These are often the result of interactions with Bethany - the hard-nosed orphan whom Ebeneezer has picked to be the Beast's latest meal. Things don't quite go to plan though, and Bethany's attitude, street-smarts and disobedience (the attributes which initially led Ebeneezer to choose her as a 'sacrifice') are what actually prove to be her saving as the story goes on (and what make her such a great character!).
Ebeneezer discovers that there is more to Bethany than her rude replies and insolence, and, once the bond between them starts to strengthen, we see both characters developing an enjoyment in each others' company that neither of them could have seen coming before they met, ending in them working together to try to outwit the Beast and his demands to save both of their lives.
I loved the relationship between the two characters, and, indeed, the characters themselves - Ebeneezer with his arrogant aloofness, and Bethany with her hard-edged sarcasm and sass - and watching the way their interactions and behaviour towards each other changed throughout the tale. Other characters, such as the birdkeeper with his menagerie of rare breeds and salesman's patter, and Miss Fizzlewick the orphanage manager (straight out of central casting from 'Annie'!), are recognisable staples of many a great story, and their inclusion makes the story feel even more familiar - like one of those classics many of us will probably have enjoyed, and to which this book is frequently, and justifiably, being compared.
Gruesome details of the Beast's behaviour, demands, and his 'vomiting' of rewards for being fed will delight shock-hungry readers, as will the sharp dialogue and wit of the characters. The clever and detailed ilustrations will also provide visual enjoyment for readers alongside the text - the brilliant dark cover and green sprayed edges give the book a sinister feel on picking it up and before you even begin to read it!
As you can probably tell, I'm rating this book very highly. It is a simple story of good vs. bad, but marvellously told, with engaging characters who I cared about, delightfully dark Dahl-like detail and the marvellous prospect of a sequel to boot! Well deserved of the plaudits it is receiving, Jack Meggitt-Phillips has, in my opinion, produced a classic here, that took me as a reader back to the sense of enjoyment I felt reading books like this when I was younger. Brilliant.
Published by Egmont, you can find out more at their website: https://www.egmontbooks.co.uk/products/the-beast-and-the-bethany-jack-meggitt-phillips-isabelle-follath-9781405298889/ or by following them on Twitter and Instagram at @egmontbooksuk
Jack Meggitt-Phillips is on Twitter as @MeggittPhillips
Watch him read from 'The Beast and Bethany' in this clip:
Illustrator, Isabelle Follath, is on Twitter as @IsabelleFollath, and her website is at: https://www.isabellefollath.ch/
Review by Rich Simpson (follow me on Twitter/Instagram as @richreadalot)