Friday, October 8, 2010

Book Review: Here Be Monsters! The Ratbridge Chronicles, Volume 1, by Alan Snow

"I saw these men hunting cheese and I went to have a look, but my wings broke and the hunters took them, and then I escaped and was trying to get back down underground when they blocked up my hole."

"But what were you doing aboveground? And what wings? I don't understand," said Willbury.

Arthur decided to tell Willbury all. "I was gathering food." His face grew red, but he continued. "It's the only way we can survive. My grandfather is so frail now that I have to do it. And he made me some wings so I could get about the town easily."

"Your grandfather gave you wings?"

Summary: Young Arthur is a resident of Ratbridge. Or, rather, a resident under Ratbridge. He's not sure why he lives below ground, except that his inventor grandfather says that they must. They share this underground world with curious creatures: boxtrolls, cabbageheads, rabbit women, and the rather fearsome trotting badgers.

One day, Arthur gets caught above-ground on one of his nightly forays to the surface world to gather food. The rather nasty Snatcher, his grandfather's old nemesis, has stolen the machine Arthur's grandfather built for him to be able to fly about, and he doesn't know how to get back home.

But Arthur is not without friends. He is helped by the kindly retired lawyer Willbury Nibble, and the underlings who live with him: the boxtrolls Fish, Egg, and Shoe, and the shy cabbagehead Titus. Then there's the pirates-turned-laundry-workers, talking rats and crows, and oh! we can't forget The Man in the Iron Socks. They are all determined to get Arthur back home safely.

Arthur and his friends soon discover that something stinks in Ratbridge, and it isn't just the cheese: Someone has begun hunting Wild English Cheeses again - an outlawed sport. And mysterious goings-on are afoot at the old Cheese Hall. And all the entrances to the underground world have been sealed up. And the boxtrolls and cabbageheads are all disappearing. And the underlings' tunnels are starting to flood. Grandfather is worried, and they all know Snatcher is the root of this mystery. Somehow. Whatever will they do?

For Teachers and Librarians:
Here Be Monsters! fits into many literary niches: fantasy, adventure, a bit of steampunk, mystery, and humor. Use it in conjunction with social studies and history, as it touches on industry, factories, invention, law and order, family groups, a fictional town based loosely in 1800's England, and the big one: pirates! Use it in art classes to study pen and ink drawings, as the book is crammed with over 500 of them. Science classes will find discussions of electromagnetics, mechanical and steam-powered machines, and environmental concerns tied to depletion of natural resources and its resultant aftermath. But most of all, it is a book that will have your students laughing at the antics of the characters, commiserating with their setbacks, and cheering with their successes.

For Parents, Grandparents and Caregivers:
Here Be Monsters! is a book both you and your kiddos will enjoy. It is full of humor, fantasy, mystery, and adventure. It's a great introduction into the steampunk genre, if you've been wondering what that is. And it's a really fun book, with odd characters like wild English cheeses, boxtrolls, cabbageheads, and seacows (interpreted quite literally, and bearing only a passing resemblance to the manatees you might be thinking of).

Arthur is a sweet kid who loves his adoptive grandfather, and wants to do what's right, and is able to find friends to trust when he ends up in a rather tight spot. You'll find themes of family, loyalty, friendship, trust, mystery, adventure, and much more. It's very different, and yet not, and it will give you and the kiddos plenty to talk about. But most of all, it's fun!

For the Kids:
Here Be Monsters! has some very odd creatures: boxtrolls, and cabbageheads, and wild English cheeses, and vicious trotting badgers, and even pirates-turned-laundry-business-owners. It has a boy who can fly, and talking rats and crows, and dastardly villians with names like Archibald Snatcher, and stinky cheese. Lots of stinky cheese. Now, I ask you: who doesn't love a story with stinky cheese and flying boys and laundry-washing pirates? If you like fun, and adventure, and mystery, and inventions, then this is the book for you. Oh, and did I mention the pictures? It's full of over 500 drawings to go with the story. What are you waiting for? Go find it, and read it.

For Everyone Else:
Here Be Monsters! is definitely a book for the young-at-heart. Besides the funny stuff, it also has little bit of steampunk, a big dose of fantasy, plenty of adventure, some classic mystery, a decidedly English flavor, and a variety of things to make you think. Maybe you'll even learn a little bit of something new by the time you're done. Give it a try.

Wrapping Up:
Here Be Monsters! Find it. Read it. Have fun with it.

Title: Here Be Monsters! The Ratbridge Chronicles, Volume 1
Author and Illustrator: Alan Snow
Pages: 544
Reading Level: Ages 9-12
Publisher and Date: Atheneum, 2006
Edition: 1st United States edition
Language: English
Published In: United States
Price: $17.95
ISBN-10: 0-689-87047-7
ISBN-13: 978-0-689-87047-7

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