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Zombierella - Joseph Coelho, ill. by Freya Hartas

MY FIRST BLOG TOUR! (and I'm so pleased it's for this book!)

Let me make it clear from the start - I'm already a big fan of this author's work, having loved Joseph Coelho since a school visit he did a couple of years ago introduced me to his poetry, and having read his wonderful picture books ('If All The World Were...' and 'Luna Loves Library Day') to my two children in their younger years. This, however, is a different sort of Joseph...dark, deadly, gruesome, and with poo incidents as a plot device! And we loved it!

A twisted, spooky retelling of Cinderella, with a cast of Death, skeletons, vampires, zombies and mushrooms instead of a Fairy Godmather and pumpkins, the language is colourful, creepy and full of gore and gruesome detail that caused gasps and giggles; danger, death and dark deeds that caused squeals of delight from my two young fellow readers (and a Zombierella-inspired dress up and read session!). They were particularly (gruesomely) delighted at the demise of a cat sharing their surname...

I'm not going to spoil the plot for you, but limbs get cut off, necks are broken, brain is exposed, poo is stood in, and vampires drain maidens of blood. Classic elements of many a horror, and with similar characters to other youth-targeted offerings in the market ('Amelia Fang' and the 'Isadora Moon' series for example), this will attract both younger readers looking for a not-too-frightening experience and older readers eager to see a 'Fairy Tale Gone Bad' alike, with beautiful poetic language that is funny, gruesome, heart-breaking and heart-warming in turn, and that varies in style throughout from more eloquent prose to almost rap-like in places.

Introduced to the 'Tale Gone Bad' in a wonderful chapter by the wonderful character of the librarian and his discovery of 'gone off' books, we follow the familiar plot of the sister as victim, dressed in hand-me-downs and mistreated. The ball, the prince (though of darkness in this version!), a carriage, and a search for the correct foot of a dance partner all feature too, so traditionalists will not be disappointed. Those looking for a completely different spin will not be either, though, as the story is twisted and turned from glitter to grime and nice to nightmare as we learn about Zombierella's origins and eventual escape from her situation (the stepsisters get their come-uppance, don't worry!!).

A high-quality printed edition, this weighs a ton, and the book is a lovely object in itself. The fold-out cover reveals the first of the detailed drawings by Freya Hartas in colour. She then adds devishly gruesome black-and-white illustrations throughout, adding to the images created by the poetry, and ranging from smaller detailed sketches (my favourite being The Monstrous Duckling) , to expansive whole double-page spreads filled with events and details to laugh at and groan in equal measure...

I loved the touches that brought this version up to date and also differ from the original (the reason why Cinderella gets her name for example, alongside the more diverse depiction of the character of Cinder/Zombie-rella herself). Alongside the gruesome details are messages of love, loneliness, morals and forgiveness that add richness to this reincarnation as well, and that balance the darkness with light and tongue-in-cheek humour (I've never been happier to see a dead horse appear!).

This is the first in a series of Fairy Tales Gone Wrong and is,to quote the marvellous Mat Tobin, fellow book-blogger and friend: 'deliciously dark' indeed!

I can't wait to see what twists and spins are brought to bear on other classics in the future (I'd love to claim some credit for 'Little Dead Riding Hood' if used!)

Huge thanks to Kirsten at Walker for the review copy of the book and wonderful gift package of gruesome accompaniments, and for asking me to be part of the blog-tour for this book.

Watch Joseph read from Zombierella here:

Joseph Coelho's website is and he is on Twitter as @JosephACoelho

Freya Hartas' website is and she is on Twitter as @FreyaHartas

Review by Rich Simpson (@richreadalot) September 2020.

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