________________ CM . . . . Volume XX Number 7. . . .October 18, 2013


The Creature Department.

Robert Paul Weston.
New York, NY: Razorbill/Penguin (Distributed in Canada by Penguin Canada), 2013.
352 pp., hardcover, $18.00.
ISBN 978-1-59514-685-4.

Grades 3-8 / Ages 8-13.

Review by Andrew Laudicina.

*** /4

Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.


The door opened onto a huge room filled with banks of flashing computers and a sea of laboratory tables. Each one was topped with the strangest things: elaborate chemistry sets that fizzled and popped with colorful fluids, whirling machinery that reminded Elliot of the most complicated clocks—only ticking much faster than time itself, screens like old, half assembled televisions, broadcasting images that seemed from another world.

…“Welcome,” said Elliot’s uncle, “to the Creature Department.”

Leslie and Elliot were too shocked to respond. They could only stand and stare as the activity subsided and, very slowly, every strange, other worldly eye in the room swiveled to face them.

“Everyone,” Professor von Doppler announced. “This is my nephew, Elliot, and his friend, Leslie. They’re the ones I told you about!”

There were a variety of reactions. Some of the creatures smiled sheepishly and waved. Others narrowed their eyes suspiciously. Many of them took very little notice, merely going back to what they had been doing before the two small strangers arrived.


Twelve-year old Elliot von Doppler and his friend Leslie Fang are recruited to breathe new life into a struggling technology firm in order that it may stave off a corporate takeover by an industry rival. While the invitation to join DENKi-3000, the world’s fifth largest electronic company and manufacturer of popular products, such as the wireless breath mint, comes as a pleasant surprise, both Elliot and Leslie are shocked to learn that they will be working alongside a team of inventors comprised almost exclusively of creatures. After some initial hesitation, Elliot and Leslie take well to the ways of the Creature Department and the ‘science’ they employ to achieve their work. But it does not take long for things to go terribly wrong, beginning almost immediately with the mysterious disappearance of Professor Archimedes, lead researcher at the Creature Department and also Elliot’s uncle. Shorthanded, and with weird figures lurking in the shadows, Elliot and Leslie find it nearly impossible to meet the deadline set by shareholders. Concerned, yet unwilling to give up, they apply their new knowledge of creature intangibles in the hope that it will save their beloved Professor and DENKi-3000 from certain doom. But will these efforts also be enough to thwart the secret conspiracy that threatens to unleash an age-old evil onto this world and that which belongs to the creatures?

      Rapidly paced, Weston’s writing is awash in quick wit and clever conversations. The creatures, themselves, are wonderfully conceived—ranging from the simply strange, (a giant salamander with dreadlocks), to the cliché, (the infinitely quarrelsome three-headed storekeepers)—and are the source of much of this hilarity. Although Elliot’s voice is favored, Weston’s decision to write with a revolving third-person narration is a peculiar one; it, however, works relatively well allowing for the delivery of in-depth character insights and plot element twists which would otherwise likely not be entertained in any other style.

     For all of its quirkiness, humour and action, The Creature Department does slow down at times to communicate positive messages and provide good-natured lessons to enlighten readers about body image and how to potentially confront feelings of hopelessness and anxiety. Subtly incorporated throughout is also a commentary on modern business, in particular, the difficulties with corporate practices which place a priority on profit before people.

     A special mention should also be extended to the book’s cover art: brightly coloured and equipped with the function to glow in the dark. This—as well as the book’s many character sketches (at least one per chapter)— perhaps more than anything, will capture the interest of prospective readers.

     While the book is not inherently spooky, The Creature Department should do well with young readers interested in a few scares (and laughs).


Andrew Laudicina, a MLIS graduate from the University of Western Ontario in London, currently resides in Windsor, ON.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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