Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

The Beasts of Upton Puddle

The Beasts of Upton Puddle

Simon West-Bulford
For ages 10 to 13
Medallion Press, 2013   ISBN: 978-1605425207

Every Sunday Joe Cooper delivers newspapers early in the morning, and then he goes to Ringwood Forest to rest and to enjoy the sound of peaceful bird song. One Sunday he is leaning against a tree when he starts to doze and then to dream. His dream is full of terrifying events and noises, but when he wakes up he discovers some of the noises are real. A pair of animals seem to be fighting, and when Joe goes to investigate he sees an apelike creature standing next to the body of a fallen animal. After a terrifying minute or so, the ape creature walks off and Jo is able to find out that the beast’s foe was a badger, which is gravely wounded. He tries to get the local vet to help, but the vet is far too busy to take care of a badger for free. Jo then checks in the telephone director and finds out that there is a local animal shelter where he might be able to get the badger some help.

   Jo goes to Merrynether Mansion and he wonders if he has made a mistake. This does not look like an animal shelter, but he decides to try anyway. He rings the bell and meets the owner of the house, Mrs. Merrynether. She agrees to take care of the badger if Joe runs an errand for her. All he has to do is to get a few things from the local shop for her.

   Some time later, pulling his heavily laden wagon, Joe is back at the mansion. This time no one comes to the door when he rings the bell. In the end Joe decides to try to find another way into the building. He finds a back door and in the cellar he meets a tiny man who is incarcerated in a cage and who insults Joe in a heavy Irish accent. Joe manages to get the little man, who is a  cluricaun, to tell him how to get out of the cellar, and thus he gets back to the main part of the house. Joe deliveries the groceries and is invited to return the following week to help out again.

   The following Sunday Joe arrives to hear a Mr. Redwar threaten Mrs. Merrynether. The business tycoon wants the old woman to sell her property to him, and she is refusing to do so. After Mr. Redwar departs, Mrs. Merrynether tells Joe that she thinks that he, Jo, is special and she has something to show him.  Joe cannot help feeling that he and his old lady are connected in some deep way and he allows her to show him her secret: a huge vault that is full of caged or tethered animals. The thing is that the animals are not your everyday cats and dogs. They are not even your everyday badgers and foxes. Instead, Mrs Merrynether is tending mythological creatures, some of which Joe has never even heard of. One of them, a manticore, is very ill indeed and Joe worries deeply that the poor animal will not recover. If only there is something that he can do to help. Joe never imagines that his friendship with Mrs. Merrynether is going to launch him on an adventure that could end with him losing his life during a bloody war between humans and mythological creatures.

   In this memorable novel, we see how ancient misconceptions can lead to present day hatreds that can, in turn, fuel dreadful conflicts. Though the problem Joe stumbles into by accident is not one that he has any personal connection with, he ends up doing everything he can to protect his new friends, even though some of them are extremely dangerous. Jo learns that sometimes you have to have faith in others even when they seem to be letting you down in many ways.

   Readers who enjoy fantasies and adventure-filled tales are going to enjoy this unique title.