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The Monsters of Rookhaven

The Monsters of Rookhaven

Published: 17 Sep 2020

Hardback, 352 pages

Recommended for age 11+

By Padraig Kenny

Illustrated by Edward Bettison

Published by Pan Macmillan

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A story about empathy and difference, from the bestselling author of Tin, stunningly illustrated by Edward Bettison.

Tagged identity and monsters

Reviewed by Roy James

On the run, sister and brother Jem and Tom no longer have a home. They take what they need and sleep where they can. Mirabelle, on the other hand, has a home. She lives with her fellow monsters in what’s called ‘The Family’, shielded from the real world by a magical protective veil. However, the veil has been torn, and when Jem and Tom pass through, they discover the monsters of Rookhaven.

Each has a special ability, apart from Mirabelle who, even as a monster, feels out of place. But when a malevolent presence appears in the nearby village, friendship and family matters more than anything.

As you’d expect from the title, this book concerns monsters. Monsters by appearance, who aren’t actually monsters at all, and those who are capable of doing potentially monstrous things – and also a monster even the monsters keep locked up.

Three things made this book special: the characters, the post-war setting, and the illustrations. Its cast is a real kaleidoscope of personalities. From the monsters to the humanism, each is significant to the story in a way where there’s an equality at play. The shifting perspectives help this.

Set just after the Second World War, many of the characters are dealing with the tragedies that come with conflict. Grief is a big theme, as too are the unseen troubles that people are holding close to their hearts. In a truly moving chapter, the reader is, very sensitively, shared these innermost thoughts. It’s good to see a book dealing with people’s personal monsters, which are always the most terrifying.

Thirdly, the illustrations by Edward Bettison complete, rather than complement, this book. They really do seem to weave in and out of the pages, taking on a monstrous form of their own. Some being super creepy and perfect for bedtime scares.

Readers in UKS2 and KS3 will devour this and love the horror aspect, albeit safely. Whatever form monsters take, it’s important to talk to our family and friends about our problems. Sometimes those monsters won’t seem so hideous, and if not, at least we’re not alone with them.

I work as a librarian across two primary schools, and I tutor English Literature and Language at a secondary school. I was recently awarded a PGCert from Oxford Brookes University in Children's Literature.