The Book of Beasts is written by Edith Nesbit, author of such classic children's novels as Five Children and It and The Railway Children. This story comes from a collection called The Book of Dragons published in 1900. This version is abridged and fully illustrated, making it suitable for a younger child. My four year old enjoyed it immensely.
The Book of Beasts is the story of young boy named Lionel who is unexpectedly crowned King of his country. He finds that the old King almost bankrupted the kingdom by buying books (making him my kind of king!) and has left behind a splendid library. Lionel explores the library and finds a magical book called the Book of Beasts, which is full of pictures of creatures which come to life and escape the book when it is opened to their page.The first two pages produce a beautiful butterfly and a bird of paradise, but the third unleashes a dragon who proceeds to rampage through the kingdom eating people. The young King then unleashes a manticore and finally a hippogriff in his attempt to force the dragon back into the book.
I love Nesbit's cheeky sense of humour and the way children in her stories often get one over the adults.
The illustrations by Inga Moore are a delight. The pedant in me is annoyed that the hippogriff is actually a winged horse and not a hippogriff (hippogriffs have the body of a horse and the head of an eagle) but my four year old just loves horses, especially flying ones, so she didn't care. The cowardly cat-eating manticore is also strangely cute.
The Book of Beasts is a great book to read aloud to children aged for and up, or for confident readers.