In Monster School (Ford Street), we meet Thomas, the Prince of Monstro City, heir to the throne since his father and brother were carried off by vampires. His mother has been lying comatose in hospital. And Thomas himself is virtually imprisoned with an ogre bodyguard called Erica, as, ruler of a dying species — humans — he is in constant danger of being assassinated by anything from Bloody Mary, who reaches out from the bathroom mirror, to vampire mosquitoes.
But there is something fishy in the state of Monstro City and it isn’t necessarily the swamp monsters. Thomas goes undercover — literally — at the local monster high school to find out. There, he meets sweet mummy girl Scarab, a wisecracking giant spider called Bruce, maggot-riddled zombie Zorg, cynical goblin girl Greta and Stoker, a mohawked vampire who looks oddly familiar.
I should add that, despite the title, the novel takes off from here. The school is only there early in the book to introduce the characters and give some background to the universe. And the author does find ways to explain the world he has created, partly through the teachers and partly through a volume called The Monster Guide by one DC Greengoblin. Interestingly, the monster characters aren’t merely cutesy fantasy critters. The mummy is a genuine mummy, woken from death only four years ago. The zombie was once a human boy, as was the vampire. We learn that the monsters of various kinds always existed, they simply had to go underground during the human era. After a major flood, they returned.
When Thomas and his new friends find out what has really been going on and why the palace is broke, they go on a quest to save the kingdom. Starting with collecting back taxes from a dragon.
There is plenty of action, adventure and humor in Monster School, with excellent cartoon illustrations and cover by Danny Willis, who has done the art for some of Paul Collins’ books. There is also an oddly serious flavor to the later parts of the book and be warned, it ends on a cliffhanger, with a few pages of the second volume.
An entertaining book for good readers in late primary and early secondary school. ◊
Sue Bursztynski lives in Australia, where she works as a teacher-librarian. She has written several books for children and young adults, including Crime Time: Australians Behaving Badly and the YA novel Wolfborn. Her blog The Great Raven can be found at http://suebursztynski.blogspot.com.