Here Be Monsters! The Ratbridge Chronicles, Book 1 Book Poster Image

Here Be Monsters! The Ratbridge Chronicles, Book 1

(i)

 

Friendly monsters help boy in quirky, wildly whimsical tale.

What parents need to know

Educational value

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.

Positive messages

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.

Language

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."

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.

What's the story?

One night in the polluted, dystopian town of Ratbridge, an oddly dressed boy named Arthur, who lives with his grandfather in the tunnels beneath the city, emerges looking for food. Things quickly go awry; he can't get home again because all portals to the underground world have been glued shut by villains up to no good. But, fortunately, he soon falls in with a friendly, if peculiar, collection of characters, from retired lawyer Willbury and inventor Marjorie to the various dwellers of the underground, including boxtrolls and cabbageheads as well as a crew of rats and men who, due to a downturn in the pirate business, support themselves by taking in laundry. Together they must get Arthur home to his grandfather -- and foil a plot that seems to involve the torture and killing of sheep-like cheeses.

Is it any good?

QUALITY

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. 

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about why stories about friendly monsters are so popular. Do you like them better than stories about scary monsters? What are your favorite stories with monster characters?

  • Do you know any other stories about inventors whose clever creations are hijacked for evil purposes? How do they turn out?

  • Do you think the pictures help tell the story here? Would it be as fun without them?

Book details

Author:Alan Snow
Illustrator:Alan Snow
Genre:Fantasy
Topics:Adventures, Friendship, Misfits and underdogs, Pirates
Book type:Fiction
Publisher:Atheneum
Publication date:July 1, 2006
Number of pages:544
Publisher's recommended age(s):8 - 14
Available on:Paperback, Nook, Hardback, iBooks, Kindle

This review of Here Be Monsters! The Ratbridge Chronicles, Book 1 was written by

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  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

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