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Book Review: Fairy Tales Gone Bad: Creeping Beauty by Joseph Coelho (Walker Books)

Illustrated byFreya Hartas

For ages 7+

*[Ad-review copy]

Author and Children’s Laureate, Joseph Coelho is very very good with his “MWAHAHAHAHAAAAA”s. He’s the perfect purveyor of spooky, creepy and fractured fairy tales for middle grade readers. I’ve been a dedicated fan of his ‘Fairy Tales Gone Bad’ series illustrated by the absolutely INCREDIBLE children’s illustrator, Freya Hartas ever since ‘Fairy Tales Gone Bad: Zombierella’ published in 2020.

As we head into the spookiest time of the year with Hallowe’en fast approaching, this book is very much getting me geared up for half term fun at the end of this month.

About the book

As with ‘Zombierella’ (book 1) and ‘Frankenstiltskin’ (book 2), readers are lured into this 3rd fairy tale ‘gone bad’ ‘Creeping Beauty’ by a very ‘run-a-mile-in-the-opposite-direction-looking’ librarian who perhaps to an avid book reader doesn’t look that scary, as the heavy bags under his eyes, the wrinkled forehead and frown merely might indicate the concern he has about the increasing size of his TBR (To Be Read) book pile and therefore hasn’t slept for the last 10 years… just a thought.

Illustration © Freya Hartas
Illustration © Freya Hartas

The Librarian ‘warmly’ welcomes the reader, “My lovely wretched readers”… in the opening verses of the story and he intimates that he has discovered something new to recommend, this time in the botanical section of the library and of course, it’s “shocking and frightening”! I dare to continue…

The reader is introduced to Eshe, who has rather a lot of sisters, actually 12 and she’s the youngest. What’s more they’re all fairy godmothers, each with their own magical strength…granting incredible hair, fabulous dress sense, mega-numbers of followers on social media and so on. I could do with these ladies in my life!! However, Eshe is blessed with a gift quite different to her sisters. She has visions. Not the nice kind, sadly. She foresees doom and gloom, and as a result is alienated from the family for being a bit an oddity.

Illustration © Freya Hartas
Illustration © Freya Hartas

Remember the Librarian found this story in the botanical section? Well that’s where the ‘creeping’ thorny vines part of the book title comes from, then ‘beauty’ … I’m sure you remember the fairy tale of ‘Sleeping Beauty’?

As far as following the original story we have a royal baby on whom the fairy godmother(s) bestow gifts, we have a curse that the princess will prick her finger and die on her sixteenth birthday, thankfully due to the last gift she isn’t to die but sleep, and there are thorns, lots of them. OK that all being said, I’m happy to report that the story has been much improved, with the delightful addition of a Harpy (magical human+bird) who is out for revenge, a prince frog (who deserved it), a Queen with a secret never shared before, and the ghoulish Eyes of Grimm. Overarching the obvious fantasy about it all there is a message of acceptance of differences, embracing each other’s different skills and strengths, taking an innocent until proven guilty attitude, and family and community coming together as a collective force for good.

Illustration © Freya Hartas
Illustration © Freya Hartas

Always engaging, filled with dark and delicious humour, bad meaning good twists and happy endings, this is a highly collectible series, which are enjoyable to be read aloud in character, alone or at bed-time. These books are one of the things I look forward to at this time of year and I hope they continue for as many fairy tales poet and author Joseph Coelho can twist and turn at his pleasure.

With gorgeous glossy paper throughout and illustrations on every page, this story entirely in prose is complete GENIUS, as is the rest of the series. It is unique in the market right now. This is a plentiful cast of characters where the majority of them are Black; clever and meaningful poetry faithfully representative of Joseph Coelho and his path, and I worship at the door of the powers that be that celebrate and publish top quality writing, illustration and end product formats for Black creators in the children’s publishing industry.

About the creators

Joseph Coelho, Britain's Waterstones Children's Laureate 2022-2024 (author)

Joseph Coelho grew up on a council estate in Roehampton and started writing poems in secondary school. After studying archaeology at university, he spent some time in Peru and, returning to the UK, started doing performance poetry in schools. With extensive experience in running dynamic creative literacy sessions, Coelho’s multi-award winning work aims to inspire and empower children through stories and characters they can relate to, as well as help to explore feelings and celebrate inclusivity. His laureateship seeks to promote the power of poetry and build the nation’s library membership amongst other goals.

Coelho’s debut children’s poetry collection, Werewolf Club Rules, came out in 2014 and won the CLiPPA (Centre for Literacy in Primary Poetry Award) the same year. Since then, he has written several further lyrical children’s stories and poetry collections including Overheard in a Tower Block (2017), If All the World Were... (2019), the enchanting picture books series Luna Loves…,and the award-winning My Beautiful Voice (2022).


Freya Hartas (illustrator)

Freya is a UK based illustrator specialising in children’s books. She lives in the vibrant city of Bristol with her partner and works from her cosy, cluttered desk in a shared studio down the road . She graduated from Falmouth University with a first class honours in BA Illustration in 2014. Freya loves to conjure up humorous characters, animals and monsters, creating the most fantastical worlds for them to inhabit and get lost in. She has worked on picture books and a number of classic chapter book illustrations for older children.


Key themes

fractured fairy tales




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Publication date: 29 September 2022

Format: Paperback

Also in this series:

*My review copy was kindly sent to me by the publisher.

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