Review Blog

Oct 27 2020

Fairy tales gone bad: Zombierella by Joseph Coelho

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Illus. by Freya Hartas. Walker Books, 2020. ISBN: 9781406389661.
(Age: 9+). Recommended for readers who appreciate dark humour. Warning though that this book may upset sensitive children.
In time for Halloween, this is the first of a planned series of three dark fairy tales. A librarian discovers an unloved collection of books that are deteriorated, cracked and swollen. The question is whether foul changes on the outside of a book mean the story inside is changed too?
Starting with the story of Cinderella, we see the answer is yes. The overall tale is somewhat familiar yet has become twisted and rotten.
Cinderella lives with her 'fake' mother and sisters who treat her badly and are deliberately disgusting. A prince announces a series of balls to find a wife, and the 'fakes' all swan off to the first ball.
A freak accident creates Zombierella. She makes it to the ball too and meets the prince. She endures more ill treatment before we find out whether she lives 'happily ever after'.
Joseph Coelho (poet, playwright and younger children's author) has created a darkly funny story as his first book for middle-grade readers.
He uses a range of devices to maintain interest: the story is written entirely in verse, switching between rhyming and free verse. The text flows easily and is simple to read while still including delightfully descriptive language (for example the family never 'say' anything - they phlegm, drone, flap and more).
For sensitive children, warning that there are multiple deaths (of people and animals), amputations, digging up graves, bones sticking out and innards on the outside of a body. The family treat each other badly and the mother inflicts a terrible injury without a second thought.
There are dark illustrations on every page that bring the story to life (so to speak!) - these are detailed and moody but are also cartoon-like which ensures they are not too realistic or graphic.
Themes: Death, Relationships, Fairy tale (fractured), Verse, Family.
Kylie Grant

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