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Children's Fiction Fantasy & Magic

The Curse of Eelgrass Bog

by (author) Mary Averling

Penguin Young Readers Group
Initial publish date
Jan 2024
Fantasy & Magic, Horror & Ghost Stories, LGBT
Recommended Age
8 to 12
Recommended Grade
3 to 7
  • Hardback

    Publish Date
    Jan 2024
    List Price

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Dark secrets and unnatural magic abound when a twelve-year-old girl ventures into a bog full of monsters to break a mysterious curse.

Nothing about Kess Pedrock’s life is normal. Not her home (she lives in her family’s Unnatural History Museum), not her interests (hunting for megafauna fossils and skeletons), and not her best friend (a talking demon’s head in a jar named Shrunken Jim).

But things get even stranger than usual when Kess meets Lilou Starling, the new girl in town. Lilou comes to Kess for help breaking a mysterious curse—and the only clue she has leads straight into the center of Eelgrass Bog.

Everyone knows the bog is full of witches, demons, and possibly worse, but Kess and Lilou are determined not to let that stop them. As they investigate the mystery and uncover long-buried secrets, Kess begins to realize that the curse might hit closer to home than she’d ever expected, and she’ll have to summon all her courage to find a way to break it before it’s too late.

About the author

Contributor Notes

Mary Averling grew up across England and Canada, never far from the woods. She has degrees from the University of Victoria and Lucy Cavendish College, Cambridge. Since she can't stay away from libraries for very long, she is currently working toward her PhD in Ontario, where she lives surrounded by all the magical, spooky, heartfelt books she can find. The Curse of Eelgrass Bog is her middle grade debut.

Excerpt: The Curse of Eelgrass Bog (by (author) Mary Averling)

I sneak back into the Unnatural History Museum at exactly two minutes past midnight, carrying a backpack full of bones. No one sees me. The town is half-drowned in fog, the ghostly kind that often creeps inward from Eelgrass Bog, and the watch fires burn low. Even the moon is hidden. I squeeze through a gap in the museum’s hedge, only stopping when my hair snags on a branch.

Kess, a voice hisses from my backpack. Keep moving!
“One second.” I yank my hair free. The hedge is getting wilder and meaner by the day. I need to trim it down before it swallows the footpath entirely.

Are we home now?
“Yes,” I say, “so please hush up.”

The Unnatural History Museum looms in front of me, a tumbledown mess of clapboard and twisted chimneys. Most windows have been covered by ivy, and on windy nights like tonight, I can hear the wood groan. It’s as alive as a building can be—for now. I have a pretty good nose for sniffing out dead things, better than most people, and I can smell the rot in the walls.

The voice in my backpack coughs loudly.

“Yes, yes,” I grumble. “Be patient.”

The front doors are too noisy to use, despite how frequently I’ve oiled them. They’ve had rusted hinges for as long as I can remember, and the doorknobs hang like loose teeth. But this is my home. I know every mouse crack and hidden entrance, including where ivy grows overtop an unlocked window.

I wrench up the sash and roll inside with a flurry of dead leaves. Once the window is shut again, I adjust my round-rimmed glasses and scan the gloom in case Oliver is awake and waiting to ambush me. Somewhere a leaky pipe goes drip, drip. Aside from a couple of spiders scuttling across display cases, everyone—and everything—seems to be asleep. Good. I take a big, relieved breath and instantly regret it.

“It reeks in here,” I say.

Obviously. That would be me.
I wrinkle my nose. “It’s worse than you.”

Oh. The voice sounds disappointed. Guess I have competition.
I tiptoe through the main hall, and my rubber boots creak against the floorboards. I don’t need a lantern. I know exactly where every exhibit is, even in the darkest dark. A chandelier hangs above my head, dripping strings of knucklebones, and behind me, dried kraken tentacles crisscross the wall like Christmas tinsel. I pass mandrakes, tusks, fossils spat from the deepest dredges of Eelgrass Bog. All dust choked and lifeless.

Up a staircase. Underneath a woolly whale skeleton that swims through the air on invisible wires. Around the bog mummy exhibit, because bog mummies are too creepy in the dark even for me. Along the third-floor hallway until I find a broom closet. Once I’m safely inside, door locked and candle lit, I sit on an overturned mop bucket and pull three things from my backpack:

A pair of magnification goggles.

A paper bag full of bones.

A pickled head floating in an oversize mason jar.

Finally, the head says. I was getting dizzy.
Even in an unnatural history museum full of peculiar things, Shrunken Jim is real ugly. Bulbous eyes, warts, and skin the same greenish color as pond water. I know dead things shouldn’t talk—especially not dead things who’ve had their mouths sewn shut for three hundred years—but “should” and “shouldn’t” often get mixed up in Wick’s End. Ever since my parents found him on Eelgrass Bog years ago, he’s become kind of like my best friend.

Go on, Shrunken Jim says eagerly. Look at the bones! Tonight’s the night—I can feel it.
“I think so too,” I say. And I really mean it. Stormy nights always turn up the best bones, and I went closer to Eelgrass Bog than I usually dare. Not quite past the watch fires, but still.

What about that long one? Shrunken Jim says.

I slip the goggles overtop my regular glasses and thumb through dials until the bones come into sharp focus.

“Hmm. It’s from a wing.”

Ooh, perhaps it’s a dragon! Or a vampire bat!
“Vampire bats are natural, silly,” I say, running my fingers along the wing bone. It’s a bit bendy, like a stiff shoelace. I squint extra hard and try to remember Mam’s teachings. She taught me all there is to know about bones, natural and unnatural, but I have the worst memory in Wick’s End. Sometimes it feels as though her lessons are moths that fly away through my ears at night.

So, I have to focus. Focus. Focus.

Carefully, I arrange the bones into a shape. Snarl-toothed skull, pebbly vertebrae, ribs, and femurs, until a skeletal creature starts to form on the floorboards.

Oh dear. Shrunken Jim’s mouth-stitches turn downward. That looks like . . .

“A badger,” I finish, sitting up on the mop bucket. “A common badger.”

What about the wing?
“Hawk, probably. Not from the same animal.” I tug off the goggles and wipe my watery eyes with my sleeve. “I—I was so sure.”

Next time, says Shrunken Jim gently.

A draft blows through, and the walls sag. I want to smile to show that I agree, except the Unnatural History Museum doesn’t have many “next times” left. No matter how grand it once was, no matter how much I love it, the museum is close to curling up and falling apart. It’s lonely. It needs people. Ever since my parents left on their research trip to Antarctica and put my brother, Oliver, in charge, we’ve been collecting plenty of dust and cobwebs and rot, but absolutely zero visitors. We desperately need to bring people back. We need something new.

Something like an undiscovered monster, dug fresh from Eelgrass Bog.

“We’ll try again tomorrow,” I say. “We need to give the storm time to churn up new bones, is all.”

Exactly, Shrunken Jim says, and I think he’s trying to sound confident too. I bet a truly abnormal creature is floating closer to Wick’s End as we speak. Big as a house, eighteen legs, purple bones—
A sudden thud cuts him off. We both go still.

“Hear that?” I whisper. A chill scuttles down my spine like a cold finger. Branches have been pounding the windows all night, but that noise came from inside the museum.

Sounded like a door slamming, Shrunken Jim whispers. Is Awful Ollie awake?
“Oh, vermin,” I curse. Quickly, I cover the badger skeleton and Shrunken Jim with my coat, blow out the candle, and peer into the hallway. It’s dark enough to swallow fireflies whole.

What are you doing? Shrunken Jim hisses. Hide!
“Hush,” I whisper. “It’s okay, I think it was—”

“Are you talking to your pet goblin again?”

I shriek and accidentally slam the closet door on my toes, which makes me shriek a second time. “Gah! Don’t sneak up on me like that!”

Oliver strikes a match, and light washes down the hallway. His eyes are baggy and angry behind his own wire-framed glasses. We used to look alike, according to just about everyone, except now he’s thinner than a rake and never smiles and forgets to wash his clothes. He reeks of compost, all mildewy and bitter like a dead thing forced back to life.

“It’s after midnight, Kester,” he says, as if I don’t know how to tell the time. “Why are you awake?”

“Um. I wanted a glass of milk.”

“From the broom closet?”

“I—I got lost. It’s dark.”

“No candle?”

“You know me, Ollie.” I shrug as carelessly as I can. “Always unprepared.”

His mouth pinches. “Don’t call me Ollie.”

“Don’t call me Kester.”

We glare at each other. Oliver is fifteen, barely three years older than me, but he acts like he’s the most sensible grown-up who ever existed. We used to get along, mostly. We’d put on puppet shows, catalog snails, and watch storms from the museum rooftop. Once, we bicycled to a traveling fairground together, and he bought a whole bag of caramel corn for us to share. Then Mam and Da left, and he’s been a sour-faced toad ever since.

“Unprepared,” he echoes. “But you remembered to bring your jacket, backpack, and goggles? To get milk?”

I scramble for an excuse. “Maybe I just— Hey!”

Oliver pushes past me and moves my jacket with the tip of his bare toe. Shrunken Jim winces. The badger skull rolls out into the hallway, stopping at my feet.

“Oops,” I say.

Oliver whirls on me, furious. “Where did you get these?”

I think about lying, but he already knows the answer, so I jut out my chin and say, “Eelgrass Bog.”

The museum’s pipes tremble. Oliver’s mouth pinches even tighter.

“How many times do we have to talk about this?” he snaps. “Strange things live on that bog, Kester, and not the sort of strange that fits into a museum. The mud will gobble the meat from your bones, and the witches—”

“Witches?” I say too eagerly.

Demons. Remember, the watch fires are there for a reason. Go too far and you’ll be eaten alive. And you”—he glares at Shrunken Jim—“should know the dangers better than anyone.”

Shrunken Jim sticks his shriveled tongue through his mouth-stitches.

If Oliver is trying to scare me, he isn’t doing a very good job. I’ve heard all these stories and worse since I was old enough to remember. But Eelgrass Bog is where the bones are, and the nastier the monster I find, the better. Nobody comes to the Unnatural History Museum to see ordinary.

I cross my arms. “I didn’t go past the watch fires.”

“Sometimes the edge is all it takes.” Oliver waves his candlestick at the bones. “Get rid of these. And if you even think about visiting Eelgrass Bog again, I’ll—I’ll put a lock on your bedroom door.”

Go ahead, I want to snap. When Mam and Da come back, he can explain why I’m locked up and the Unnatural History Museum has gone rotten. Actually, there are lots of things I want to say to Oliver. I want to show him how loudly the walls are groaning, the cracks and too-thick ivy, the loneliness stitched up in every floorboard. I want him to notice how the exhibits are choking in dust because nobody else cares enough to clean them. I want him to realize how disappointed Mam and Da will be when they return.

Once, maybe I could’ve spoken to him properly. But there’s no point anymore. He won’t listen to me. No one ever does. I could be a wood louse, for all the difference I manage to make around here.

“Okay,” I say, hating how small my voice sounds.

He pushes up his glasses. “Good night, Kester.”

“Night, Ollie.”

I watch him go. My heart hollow-beats. Then I collect the bones into my backpack, grab Shrunken Jim’s jar, and tiptoe out of the closet into the dark.

Editorial Reviews


★ “Whimsically creepy, The Curse of Eelgrass Bog straddles the line between slimy and sweet, concocting a fantasy world that balances snarky demons, magical bogs, concerned witches and awe-inspiring serpents.” BookPage, starred review

“Averling’s worldbuilding is deft and beguiling, and Kess’ voice is a delight. Shining brightest is her endearing relationship with Shrunken Jim—an excellent supporting character for all that he’s brined. A deliciously offbeat magical adventure.” Kirkus Reviews

“A fetching, heart-stopping read with quirky characters, over-the-top ­depictions, a sinister setting, and the deep roots of family love.” School Library Journal

“[An] engrossing mystery...debut author Averling laces the overall setting with beguiling magical elements that make for an inventive adventure.” PW Reviews

“Readers will enjoy excavating layers of history in this marvelous mystery with heaps of magic and heart.” Booklist

“The perfect combination of eccentric and eerie, this builds an immersive, thrilling setting...with a voice that is as bold as it is vulnerable, as authentic as it is sassy.” —BCCB

“Deliciously creepy and full of fabulous characters and eerie wonder.” —Stephanie Burgis, author of The Dragon with a Chocolate Heart and The Raven Heir
“A bewitching tale of unnatural magic, The Curse of Eelgrass Bog delights and mystifies, teeming with curses and crawlies, cobwebs and bog bones, and the butterflies-in-your-belly wonder of being seen the way you want to be seen. I’m cursed—most marvelously—to never love another book so much as I love this one.” —Heather Kassner, author of The Bone Garden
“Equal parts creepy and magical, The Curse of Eelgrass Bog is a surreal blend of magic and mystery that will leave you feeling as though you've stumbled across an undiscovered world of your own. It had me from page one!” —Kalyn Josephson, acclaimed author of the Ravenfall series

The Curse of Eelgrass Bog is filled with magic, mystery, bravery, and so much heart. I loved it!” —Lindsay Currie, author of Scritch Scratch and The Girl in White
The Curse of Eelgrass Bog is a wonder-filled tale that's at once creepy, twisty, and incredibly full of love. This is a keep-you-on-the-edge-of-your-seat adventure that will also open your heart. I highly recommend this fantastic tale!” —Alysa Wishingrad, author of The Verdigris Pawn