The Creature Department, by Robert Paul Weston (Razorbill 2013) is a fun addition to the "magical creatures amongst us" sub-genre of children's fantasy. In this particular case, a whole panoply of creatures of great strangeness are working alongside a human inventor, sharing their magical twists on the laws of possibility to bring fantastical inventions to reality. The only problem--a rival company is staging a hostile takeover--more magically hostile than normal! And two ordinary kids, Elliot von Doppler and Leslie Fang, find themselves right in the middle of all the shenanigans. If they can't help the creatures come up with a new invention in time to keep the shareholders happy, the company will be destroyed...
This is one for those who love Creatures in all their fantastical fantastical-ness (think way past your ordinary griffins, gargoyles, dragons, etc. and more toward the creatures of Monsters, Inc.). There's humor and adventure, with plenty of excitement--first the thrills of discovery, as the kids explore the world of the Creature Department, and secondly the zippy tension of battling the bad guys, human and creature, who want to take over. The illustrations add to the fun of meeting all the myriad creatures and their marvelous world of inventions.
That beings said, The Creature Department doesn't push much past the fun of the set-up into any sort of emotionally powerful territory. Though the beginning promises an interesting character-arc for Elliot and Leslie, two science-loving kids forced by cirumstance to become friends, once they make it to the Creature Department, the focus of the story becomes almost entirely external, and character development falls by the wayside.
So maybe not one for the adult fan of middle grade fantasy, but for monster-loving kids (aged 9 to 10ish) looking for a fun read, it's a good one that might well spark their own imaginations. Here are some other reviews, at The Adventures of Cecelia Bedelia and Cool Kids Read
(Since Leslie's family is Chinese, this one gets to go on my multicultural sci fi/fantasy list, which hasn't seen many middle grade additions so far this year....)
disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher