Thursday, January 16, 2014

The Creature Department by Robert Paul Weston

In The Creature Department (Razorbill). Elliot von Doppler lives with his restaurant critic parents in the small town of Bickleburgh. They can’t cook themselves but expect him to give a review to all his meals. 

Not much happens apart from his having to review burnt toast, until he receives an invitation from his loopy uncle Archie, who works as an inventor for one of the world's biggest technology companies, DENKi-3000, oddly located in nothing-ever-happens Bickleburgh. He is to bring new girl and fellow science nerd Leslie Fang, whose mother drags her from town to town, leaving as she becomes bored, but now living with grandfather Famous Freddy above Famous Freddy’s Dim Sum Emporium, which does wonderful dumplings but has very few customers. It does, however, manage to survive because of regular orders from the mysterious R & D Department at DENKi-3000 -- the department led by Uncle Archie. 

Leslie and Elliot are about to discover just who is enjoying all that wonderful takeaway Chinese food...and that the company faces takeover by the evil Quazicom if there isn't a fabulous new product to show at the next shareholders' meeting.

Think Charlie And The Chocolate Factory with a huge variety of creatures instead of Oompa Loompas, with a just a touch of Odo Hirsch, and without Willy Wonka. Uncle Archie is a genius, but not quite in the same way. The creatures aren’t just minions, they participate in the design and creation of such things as TransMints (Get Your Freshness Direct From The Web). I also thought of Jim Henson’s muppets.

There’s a charming silliness about the whole novel (imagine getting away with being smuggled past security disguised as a giant pork dumpling! Not to mention the “expectavator,” an elevator staffed by a sort of worm who goes down by thinking about his divorce and up by making travelers feel hopeful) that children should enjoy.

There are some loose ends in the final scenes that make me wonder if a sequel is intended. We’ll have to see. The art was delightful, though I’d like to know who the illustrator was, if it wasn’t the cover artist. 

Just one thing: while I expect primary children to enjoy the story, there are some words rather too long or at least too hard for the average child and certainly too long for reluctant readers. Hopefully, this will change in any sequel that might be written. And I think there will be -- there is too much character and world building to leave it at one novel.

Meanwhile, recommended for mid/late primary school readers and early secondary. ◊

Sue Bursztynski lives in Australia, where she works as a teacher-librarian. She has written several books for children and young adults, including Crime Time: Australians Behaving Badly and the YA novel Wolfborn. Her blog The Great Raven can be found at

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