Here Be Monsters

illustrated by Poly Bernatene

“Here be monsters!” said the first mate.
“Monsters hiding the mist!”
“Nonsense,” said the Captain.
“Monsters simply don’t exist.”

A swashbuckling tale of dastardly pirates and mysterious monsters.

“This brilliantly funny story uses rhyming text and very entertaining and colourful illustrations to keep young readers amused (and adults too). Delightful!”

“Wonderfully addictive rhyming verse … superbly atmospheric drawings”

Read these and other reviews

Also illustrated by Poly Bernatene

UK Print-On-Demand Paperback: 
ISBN: 978-1838110598
(Originally published in the UK by Macmillan Children’s Books)


See Inside

Author's Note

Some ideas take longer than others to find their way into a published book. I was playing around with the idea of Here Be Monsters for 18 years before it finally made it into print and the final story is very different from the version I started out with.

I produced the first version of Here Be Monsters in 1995. I’d just lost my job as an architect and had decided to try my luck at getting into children’s publishing. At that point, I was both writing and illustrating and this book was my first attempt at paper-engineering as well.

The phrase “Here Be Monsters” is associated with old maps and the simple story of this early version was about an adventurous young girl who sees the words on a map and sets out to see the monsters for herself. The young heroine, called Maggie, travels across a pop-up landscape on her quest and as the pages turn a host of monsters are revealed to the reader but Maggie sees none of them. At the end of the book Maggie sails to an island which (in a twist stolen from the The First Voyage of Sinbad) turns out to be a huge monster.

A couple of spreads from my original unpublished Here Be Monsters pop-up book.
Left & Centre: Maggie sails across a sea that, unbeknownst to her is, teaming with monsters.
Top Right: The island that’s Maggie’s final destination, turns out to be a huge monster itself.

Although the pop-up book was never accepted by a publisher, it impressed literary agent Gina Pollinger enough for her to take me on as a client and shortly after she set me up with my first publishing deal.

A decade later, I was trying to write a picture book story for Poly Bernatene to illustrate. Poly and I had already done two picture books together and this would be our third. Looking through Poly’s back catalogue, I noticed that, although he’d done a couple of pirate books, he hadn’t illustrated a pirate picture book, so this seemed like a promising idea. There were already plenty of pirate picture books on the market and Poly suggested that we needed to add another element into the mix to make our book stand out. A few months earlier Poly had mentioned to me that he liked illustrating monsters, so I decided that pirates and monsters would be a good combination.

The sort of monsters you’d expect pirates to encounter were sea monsters. As soon as I started thinking about these, the phrase “Here be Monsters” popped back into my head and I was reminded of my first, unpublished pop-up book. So I took the core idea — the map with “Here be Monsters” written on it and a character who was oblivious to their existence — but wrote a new story about a pirate captain instead of a little girl.

In the first draft, the captain was a foolish, but not unlikable, character and the first two verses went like this:

Captain Cutlass was a pirate, and a proper pirate too!
He had a proper pirate ship and a proper pirate crew.
And though he did not need one, as both his eyes could see,
He always wore an eyepatch to look proper piratey.

So everything to port (that’s on the left to me and you),
The Captain could see clearly and was easily in view.
But everything to starboard (that means on the right),
Was covered by his eyepatch and was hidden from his sight.

In this draft the monsters always appeared on the starboard side of the ship where the captain couldn’t see them! As I got towards the end of the draft I realised there was a problem. The story has a deadly, darkly comical twist at the end and having made the Captain a relatively sympathetic character, I felt readers wouldn’t want to see him come to harm. For this reason I rewrote the story with the Captain as an utterly villainous character who deserves to meet a sticky end. Although humorous, the story is a lot darker than most picture books, so I’m grateful to editor Emily Ford and publisher Macmillan for accepting it.

When Emily sent me Poly’s first character designs I got a bit of a surprise. I’d imagined the pirates to be humans, but Poly had decided to use animal characters instead. Captain Cut-Throat was a cunning old fox and his crew a motley assortment of other creatures. I had mixed feelings about this to start with, but the characters looked so appealing that I was easily won over.

Cut-Throat's crew originally included a tiger and an owl, but they were replaced with more villanous-looking animals.

However I did request a couple of changes to the crew. The crew all meet similar fates to the Captain, so I felt it was important that they all look villainous. Poly’s original character designs (shown above) included a tiger and an owl, both of whom looked a little too respectable to my eye. So Poly replaced them with a rascally rat and barbarous boar. The Owl still makes an appearance on the first spread of the book as one of the sailors on the ship Cut-Throat is raiding.

As always, Poly produced an excellent set of illustrations for the book. I think he’s done a particularly good job with the monsters, making them look both comical and menacing at the same time.

The three sea monsters the pirates encounter in the story were inspired by three sea monsters from myth and legend: the roc, the sea serpent and the kraken.


“This brilliantly funny story uses rhyming text and very entertaining and colourful illustrations to keep young readers amused (and adults too). Delightful!”

“This thrilling, swashbuckling pirate adventure from the award-winning creators of The Princess and the Pig and The Santa Trap tells a devilishly good tale in Jonathan Emmett’s wonderfully addictive rhyming verse which will have little ones joining in the fun. Poly Bernatene’s superbly atmospheric drawings bring to life a rough, tough motley collection of animal pirates with fangs, evil eyes and more deadly knives than a top cook’s kitchen. An exhilarating story that will be a favourite long after Halloween!”

“The story is written in rhyming verse that is great to read aloud and really easy for the young listener to catch on and join in, with repeated phrases that work as great catchphrases allowing all involved to put on their best pirate voice and snarl out together. There are also plenty of opportunities for sound effects when reading this aloud and the whole experience is truly enjoyable …The artwork by Poly Bernatene is brilliant throughout with bright colour and dynamic action packed pages containing highly expressive characters … the wording and pacing of the tale keeping readers and listeners gripped throughout.”
Steve Shayler, THE BOOKBAG

“Poly Bernatene’s illustrations are wonderfully colourful and full of expression. They dominate each double page spread and will give children real pleasure in exploring them. The written text is rhyming which makes the book ideal to share with a Key Stage 1 class. This is a very good read aloud book which can also be left in the reading corner to be explored independently.”
Fiona Collins, READING ZONE

“Emmett’s riotous rollicking rhyme rattles along apace and when read aloud, it will have delighted audiences joining in with the repeated refrain of the fearless captain, as they see what he does not – his crew disappearing one by one. Poly Bernatene draws his inspiration for the dastardly crew from the less attractive members of the animal kingdom with crow, rat, crocodile and blue-bottomed baboon all featuring. The almost filmic quality of his arresting illustrations adds to the dramatic impact of the story.”