The Monster in the Mudball, by S.P. Gates

I must say that life was easier back before school started--before I had to leave for work, I had two or three beautiful hours of morning solitude, no socks to find, lunches to pack, buses to put children...which meant that blogging was easier.  And I would return from work to more peaceful relaxation time, without endless chivying of reluctant homework doers.  I guess I will have to try to write more posts on the weekends...

But in any event, here is a quick look at The Monster in the Mudball, by S.P. Gates, a new book for upper elementary/younger middle school kids from Tu Books, the multicultural sci fi/fantasy imprint of Lee and Low.

The mudball had sat, undisturbed, on the top shelf of closet in London for 20 years, until the day it fell to the floor, and came into contact with water.   The mud cracks, and out come feet with boney toes and talons...and young Jin watches in horror as the mudball runs off into the street.

Prisoned inside the mud was a Zilombo, an ancient monster from Africa.  Now it's found a den in a derelict waterfront district, near the warehouse where Jin's Chinese grandparents make glorious Chinese dragons for a living.   Zilombo had killed many times before, and now she is hungry again.  And Jin's baby brother, nicknamed Smiler seems like the perfect tasty morsel.

But A.J. Zauyamakanda, Mizz Z. for short, Chief Inspector of Ancient Artifacts, soon arrives on the scene, determined to recapture the monster.   But each time Zilombo returns to life, she has new powers...and Mizz Z., who has fought her before back in her native Malawi, might not be so lucky this time.

Jin and his big sister, Frankie, find themselves caught in a nightmare as they help battle Zilombo, desperately trying save their brother from her talons...

This is the sort of exciting Kid vs Monster book that has lots of older Elementary appeal.   There is a lot of monstrous ickiness, lots of danger, and lots of action.  Zilombo is almost too much monster to take--the new powers she's developed, though necessary for the plot, seem a tad excessive, though that probably won't bother the young readers, busily cheering Jin and Frankie on!  What makes Zilombo interesting is that she's also developing more personhood--with this new awakening, she's beginning to realize that she's lonely, and her nascent fondness for Smiler wars with her savage hunger.  Without that bit of monster character development, she would have just chomped him, so it's utterly necessary to the story and works rather well.

Jin is an unusual hero, in that he has dyspraxia, aka "clumsy child syndrome" -- and so he has to be more conscious and self-aware than your typical kid is during monster hunting.  He has to work at it, which is a nice twist.

This is one I'd give to a fourth grade boy, or thereabouts, who enjoys stories in which ordinary kids fight extraordinary monsters!  I'm not sure there's quite enough depth to satisfy much older readers, although Mizz Z.'s job as Inspector of Ancient Artifacts has intriguing potential...

(and here I am again with a label diemma--fantasy, because it's about a mythical type creature, or science fiction, because it's monsterous cryptozoology....I think I will go with the former).

Here's another review, at Ms. Yingling Reads

disclaimer: ARC received from the publisher


  1. I have more time now that school started. Less driving my daughter around in the morning or it's REALLY early--5:15 am to get to 5:45 swim practice.

    Thanks for the review. I'll be doing a giveaway of this in October (without a review). I think people will like this.

  2. I'm so happy you got to review this book. I've been super curious about it all year. Now I really can't wait to read it.


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