I’ve been itching to review The Beasties by Jenny Nimmo, illustrated by Gwen Millward ever since we discovered it at the start of the year. It’s one of those books that we’ve renewed the maximum times possible from the library because we just can’t let it go.
Daisy has moved house and is finding it hard to fall asleep in her new room. She lies awake listening to unfamiliar noises.
What was that?
Daisy’s heart went pit-a-pat.
Was it a truck in the street?
It sounded like…
… a story!
From out of the darkness a growly voice tells Daisy an exciting story about a faraway king and his ring.
Daisy wondered about that ring.
Was it gold or silver
or studded with jewels?
and wondered until
she fell asleep.
The next night again there are again strange noises Daisy is not yet used to. But this time a clickety voice cuts through the darkness to tell a captivating story about a beautiful bird. Before Daisy knows it she’s transported, and happily dreaming.
The third night it’s a musical voice with a sing-song story that lulls Daisy to sleep, but on the fourth night everything is silent. Daisy can’t sleep and longs for a story.
And then there is the faintest of growls. Daisy summons up all her courage and looks under her bed and almost screams – there are The Beasties.
But the Beasties are so very small and so very friendly and it turns out that they are the secretive storytellers who have been visiting Daisy each night, leaving treasures under her bed to inspire stories.
And when Daisy asks for another story, Floot (the Beastie with the musical voice) insists that Daisy tell her own story and hands her a shell. At first Daisy doesn’t know what to do but she thinks hard, and slowly begins to weave a story around the shell. As her story ends Daisy smiles, hugs the shell tight and drifts off to sleep imagining herself in her own story.
The Beasties sneak out of Daisy’s room knowing her bed won’t seem so big and her room won’t seem so strange now she can tell her own stories. Their work is done.
A book about how stories can comfort, reassure us and makes us feel at home – this is a fabulous read. Perfect for bedtime, ideal if coming to terms with moving house or rooms, I love how the story acknowledges worries, but turns them round. The girls love joining in with the repeated refrain “What was that? Daisy’s heart went pit-a-pat” and they adore the pictures of trinkets and knick-knacks littering the floor under Daisy’s bed – they know this sort of treasure only too well as it’s exactly the stuff they are always collecting; a feather from here, a round stone from there, a button, a ribbon, a broken earring.
The stories told by Floot and his fellow Beasties, Weevil and Ferdinand, are exactly the sort of stories my girls tell – plots told with a familiar matter-of-factness, full of both straightforward and unbelievable turns as makes perfect sense to a small child. I’m sure this mirroring of behaviour my girls know so well is a large part of why the book appeals to them.
I initially picked up the book because the cover is so beautiful – it reminds me, with its chrysanthemum-like flower petals edged in silver, of fine oriental porcelain. Gwen Millward, perhaps best known her book The Bog Baby, has done a wonderful job capturing different atmospheres and creating images full of textures and details. Her Beasties are so friendly looking – I can imagine someone good at sewing could make great soft toys to look like them.
I particularly like her illustrations on the pages where the Beasties and later Daisy are telling their own stories – the images, like the stories, are all-enveloping, full to the very edges of the pages, adding further to the feeling that stories can wrap around you like a blanket and take you somewhere else.
M was desperate for the Beasties to pay her a visit. Without any prompting she wrapped up a series of presents for Weevil, Floot and Ferdinand accompanied by a letter I wasn’t allowed to see.
With such a heartfelt request put out there, the Beasties really wanted to visit. And so in the middle of one night they snuck into M’s bedroom (with a torch) and left an array of treasures under her bed.
They also replied to her letter.
M was crazy excited by all of this – it was better than a stocking at Christmas! She couldn’t wait to show us all the trinkets the Beasties had left, and couldn’t believe they’d left a letter for her.
M then announced we were to have a Storytelling Festival and she and her sister set about creating a banner for this impromptu event.
Once everything was in its place we all sat down and chose an item each from amongst the Beasties’ booty and made up a story about it. J needed a little prompting to create her story but she too was very enthusiastic about the whole thing, and now keeps asking for the Beasties to visit her at night.
Once all our stories were shared I thought that would be the end of it, but actually most evenings for the best part of the last month M has been writing letters to the Beasties, and setting up little spaces for them to enjoy in the middle of the night using dollshouse furniture.
Of course the Beasties have been visiting a lot – who wouldn’t when such a feast is provided and they are invited to party and sing all night long? And they’ve been leaving M letters which are still being greeted with squeals of delight.
M’s playing inspired by The Beasties took me by surprise. The degree to which she has been motivated to create her own stories was wonderful to see, and now we’ve stumbled on this great little activity which is giving M an opportunity to spontaneously write creatively and to eagerly read each day.
It’s also made me realise how reading handwriting is a different skill from reading printed text; during the early exchange of letters between the Beasties and M she sometimes stumbled on the handwritten characters. By now she is much more familiar with the Beasties’ handwriting, but it did make me realise that practising to read handwritten text shouldn’t be overlooked when considering all the skills needed to create a literate, happy reader.
The Beasties:*** (3 out of 3 stars)
Whilst telling our stories we didn’t have any music on – although it would have been fun to have had our basket of musical instruments to hand to use for sound effects (we didn’t think of this at the time).
However, here are some songs that go nicely with The Beasties:
The play inspired by The Beasties wasn’t planned – we all just got carried on the wave of M’s enthusiasm, but if you wanted some ideas for activities to do alongside reading this book you could take a look at these suggestions:
Before I go I can’t help but mention another story we love about what might be hiding under your bed – Jitterbug Jam by Barbara Jean Hicks and Alexis Deacon, which I reviewed almost exactly a year ago here.
Have you got any good books to recommend about what might lurk under your bed, or about storytelling? What have you discovered that’s worked well in encouraging your kids to write and read spontaneously?