A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
Since its first appearance in 2006, Here Be Monsters! has been a particular hit with with reluctant readers for its fast-moving narrative and plentiful oddball illustrations by the author. Set in a fictitious, vaguely 19th-century universe where some cultures use steam and others electricity, the plot turns on clever inventions, some benign, some not so much -- which may lead to some interesting discussions about technology and its unintended consequences, à la "The Sorcerer's Apprentice." The language is very British, and some young U.S. readers may need some explanation of terms such as "chuffed" (quite pleased); at various points our heroes use "knickers" (underpants) for weapons, which will probably add the word to many non-British kids' vocabularies.
Courage, loyalty, resourcefulness -- and a willingness to recognize that good folks come in unlikely packages.
Positive Role Models
Here Be Monsters! is a cartoonish tale, but there are plenty of good guys, including plucky Arthur, his unjustly accused uncle, inventor Marjorie, lawyer Willbury, and a host of boxtrolls, cabbageheads, and pirates (human and otherwise) who pool their talents to save the day and outwit the bad guys.
Violence & Scariness
There's a looming creepiness in this tale, driven by past and present violence that's mostly implied; for example, horses are essentially extinct due to a very productive glue industry, which leads to some comical substitutions by the villains. The worst recurring violence befalls cheeses, who in this case have sheep-like personalities. The villains hunt them relentlessly and throw them, bleating piteously, into a cage that's lowered into a giant, bubbling pot of fondue, from which the cage soon reemerges empty. Other characters face various dangers; some of them land in a dungeon.
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Lawyer Willbury says he's "kicked the posteriors" of past adversaries. One recurring theme involves the use of "knickers" (British for "underpants") as weapons. Another deals with fashionable ladies obsessed with having "hexagonal buttocks."
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Here Be Monsters!, the first volume in the Ratbridge Chronicles series, "inspired" the 2014 movie The Boxtrolls but involves completely different characters in a similar universe. First published in 2006, the book's been a hit with reluctant readers in particular, offering a satisfying, eventful plot moved along nicely by the author's quirky illustrations, found on nearly every page. Kids who love tales that combine adventure, laughs, creepiness, and appealing, oddball characters will be in heaven as young Arthur and his many friends -- humans, animals, and underground creatures alike -- struggle to foil over-the-top evildoers before it's too late. Sensitive kids may be upset by the horrible fates that befall sheep-like cheeses in the tale: They're relentlessly hunted, injected with toxins in labs, and eventually locked in a cage that's lowered into a giant pot of boiling fondue.
Is It Any Good?
HERE BE MONSTERS is a wild concoction of whimsy, satire, creepiness, and slapstick. At 544 pages, it may seem alarmingly hefty, but author Alan Snow propels things at a fast clip with a deftly crafted narrative and plentiful illustrations. Many of the elements here are well worn -- intrepid kid! Pirates! Weird inventions! Fiendish villains! Dystopian worlds! Evil greed! -- but they all come together here with a madcap Roald-Dahl-meets-Monty-Python sensibility.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.