Hailwood mixes the always-amusing subject of bodily functions with a fast-paced chase across fantastical worlds to create a story that is sure to appeal to any child who has wondered if garden gnomes can be worn as shoes.
When a freak storm strikes the stork carrying him, Jellybean, a baby navel navigator, is dumped into a US swamp instead of the arms of his parents-to-be. Raised by the casually violent Pa Skratcher, he assumes living in a hut in a swamp is all there is—until he accidentally opens a portal to another world while getting a really good piece of fluff out of his belly button. Hoping to save his pet goat from squishy death, he sets off across the universe, accompanied by a self-absorbed wizard and the stork that was supposed to deliver him to his parents.
Hailwood creates a universe where girls are still icky, and everything icky—apart from girls—is great fun. From lucky dip made of monster dung to worms eaten from a hunchback’s hump, the narrative offers plenty of amusingly gross action.
However, this isn’t just a series of low-brow jokes. Under the toilet gags, ickiness, and pratfalls is a fast-paced tale of growing up (a little). With all three of his companions having different goals and no idea of exactly how navel navigation works, Jellybean must learn both what to do and how to choose what he does.
And along the way, he learns plenty of new facts about the effects of porridge on shared pockets, the entertainment options of being eaten, and how many fingers is normal for a pair of boots.
Jellybean himself is a solidly crafted protagonist for this tale: raised away from civilisation by a man who took years to decide on a name for him but was always quick to threaten violence, he is almost a blank slate for the opportunities of the universe. This upbringing also makes his cheerful make-do attitude and the ease with which he ignores great danger very plausible.
The supporting cast are similarly a mix of comedy and reality: the wizard is self-centred and self-aggrandizing, but also cunning enough to make a good companion; the stork is obsessed with completing the delivery of Jellybean even if Jellybean doesn’t care, but also provides actually useful information; even Brian the goat does more than just chew things.
Overall, I found this book enjoyable but (entirely reasonably) a little juvenile for my taste. I recommend it to readers seeking middle-grade humorous fantasy.
I received a free copy of this book from the author with a request for a fair review.