November 04, 2013

The Creature Department

by Robert Paul Weston
352 pp.
Ages 8-12
November, 2013
Reviewed from galley proof

Don't let the title or cover graphics deceive you into thinking The Creature Department is a horror story.  Remember that Robert Paul Weston, author of Zorgamazoo (Razorbill, 2008), Dust City (Puffin, 2010) and Prince Puggly of Spud and the Kingdom of Spiff (Puffin, 2013), has a wicked sense of humour and loves to embed fairytale-like stories with fantastical elements and the dark vices typical of humans.  Nothing terrifying there.  Just creative, whimsical, and full of rich characters and settings.  And original, captivating storylines!

The Creature Department is the name of the Research and Development Department which Elliot von Doppler's Uncle Archie heads at the tech company DENKi-3000.  When Quazicom Holdings International expresses its intent to purchase the company, Uncle Archie invites twelve-year-old Elliot and fellow student Leslie Fang (who tied with Elliot in a recent science fair) to help generate a new invention by which DENKi-3000 would regain its reputation for innovation. 

For the first time, Elliot (with Leslie) gets to visit his uncle's super-secret department which, surprisingly, is run by creatures! There's Gügor the Knucklecrumpler (an 8 ft. salamander-like creature) who's the head of Rickum Ruckery; Jean-Remy, a suave fairy-bat, in charge of Fiddly Bitology; Harrumphrey Grouseman, the Right-Hand Head;  Patti Mudmeyer, a bog nymph, who's in charge of design; and the lovable Colonel-Admiral Reginald T. Pusslegut a.k.a. Reggie, a bombastadon who is more than a glorified security guard.  When Uncle Archie disappears, and Quazicom sends their consultant, Chuck Brickwater, to learn DENKi-3000's secrets, it seems that Elliot and Leslie are the only hope for helping the creatures develop their next astounding invention. 

In a race against Quazicom and an unscrupulous VP at DENKi-3000, Elliot and Leslie learn some valuable lessons ("...ze troubles, more than anything else, zey make you who you are." pg 109), accept the value of having creativity and open-mindedness, and share some amazing experiences with their new friends. 

And the readers are treated to all the humour, wisdom, mystery, adventure and fantasy that Robert Paul Weston so effortlessly imbues his stories.  But, with the addition of wings, dreadlocks, knobbly hands, leathery skin, furry tails, cerebellows (for sucking ideas out of one's brain), leaky gills, sludge-dripping hair, greenish skins and blubberous physiques, the creatures of The Creature Department add a new graphic element to the story (though the illustrations in Robert Paul Weston's other books enhanced the stories well).  In fact, the creatures have gone beyond illustrator Zach Lydon's work on the page and into the realm of 3D creaturedom, courtesy of the visual effects studio, Framestone.   (Check them out at  Loveable, quirky, clever and kind – these creatures are more than cartoons characters.  They're the heart of The Creature Department.

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