Willow Wildthing and the Swamp Monster

Authored by Gill Lewis
Illustrated by Rebecca Bagley
Published by Oxford University Press

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This book will be enjoyed as an entertaining and gripping quest; it is also a thought-provoking story about the power of imagination and the conquest of fear.

Willow has recently moved house, and the upheaval is exacerbated by worry about her little brother in hospital. After hearing mysterious howling, Willow is alarmed when her dog, Sniff, is snatched from her garden. She follows, finds he has been taken by the ‘Wild Things’ and is thus caught up in a trek across the Wilderness and a search for the swamp monster … but nothing is quite what it seems.

This book would be well worth reading aloud to a KS1 class. It is superbly atmospheric, especially when creating a mood of fear and suspense. At the same time, it is rich in humour; the gap between the children’s imagined scenario and the more mundane reality could provoke interesting discussions. Initially, I was concerned that the boundary between truth and imagination sometimes seems blurred, but this becomes a theme (‘If you can imagine it, why can’t it be real?’) and thus ultimately a strength. At the end of the book, there are instructions for how to make a den, which could be an ideal stimulus for children to re-imagine their surroundings, as Willow’s new friends transform the ‘scrubby… wasteland’ that the adults see into the thrilling Wilderness of their adventures. The book also touches deftly on dealing with the ‘invisible monsters’ of worry, fear and jealousy; it is a book that will build empathy and resilience.