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A Chair, A Fireplace & a Tea Cozy
Inside A Chair, A Fireplace & a Tea Cozy

Review: Substitute Creacher

Substitute Creacher by Chris Gall. Little, Brown. 2011. Reviewed from F&G from publisher.

The Plot: Substitute teacher day! The children in Mrs. Jenkins’s class think they know what that means. Fun, games, pranks. They don’t expect… a Substitute Creacher instead of a Substitute Teacher.

The Good: I know, I concentrate on books for ages twelve and up here. But Substitute Creacher is so delightful, so fun, so smart, that I had to review it.

The story is told, well, as a story. The substitute teacher, Mr. Creacher is, as you can see from the cover, an actual creature. And when he speaks, he speaks in rhyme.

“”Good morning to all!

My name’s Mr. Creacher.

Ms Jenkins has asked me

to step in as teacher.

She claims that this class

has grown quite out of hand.

So, I’m here to warn you

we’re taking a stand.”

Amanda snickered at the way he spoke. Gavin opened a fresh box of tacks. The creature glared.”

Mr. Creacher proceeds to give them tales of warning, of what happens to children who misbehave.  “[Keith] ate so much glue — / no amount was too much — /that he started to stick / to all he would touch.” The stories get worse and worse. Draw during class? You may create a real fire burning dragon who sets the classroom on fire! It turns out the worst story of all is that of young Chris, who stole candy from a magical gnome. The gnome cursed Chris, turning Chris into a creature who was cursed to never go home and to teach children not to be wicked. Yep, you guessed it. Mr. Creacher is Chris, forty-nine years later.

What I loved about this book is that each of those mini-stories, as well as the wraparound story about Chris, is a mini Goosebumps episode. Bad things happen! The end. Plus, the pictures! The copyright page explains the artistic process: “the artwork was created using bat wings, toad juice, and the bundled whiskers of a black cat.” The front endpapers shows a street scene of Mr. Creacher going to work; the back endpapers shows the same scene, but when the creature was the boy Chris. In one picture, a satellite dish is on a house; in the other, an antenna. Little details like that show the years between the two. Also, remember that gnome? Sometimes, he appears in the illustrations, keeping an eye on Mr. Creacher.

Often, books for older kids, those who are “too old” for picture books, are non-fiction or serious books about serious subjects. I love that this is a book for older kids that is just flat-out fun. Well, if you consider a tale of what goes wrong when you bring a shark to school “fun.”

About Elizabeth Burns

Looking for a place to talk about young adult books? Pull up a chair, have a cup of tea, and let's chat. I am a New Jersey librarian. My opinions do not reflect those of my employer, SLJ, YALSA, or anyone else. On Twitter I'm @LizB; my email is


  1. All three of my kids – ages 7, 9 and 12 – are passionate Chris Gall fans. We even designed the paint job in my son’s room to be reminiscent of the Martian landscape of THERE’S NOTHING TO DO ON MARS. And DEAR FISH has been read to smithereens. And I think it’s a unique talent for a picture book author to be able to reach children as they grow – even as they grow past the age of picture books. He does a wonderful job of providing visual puns and inside jokes in the context of some stunningly beautiful art. And of course there are other authors who do this as well – Maurice Sendak, for one. But we are terribly pleased to have discovered Mr. Gall, and we are waiting with breath bated for our copy of CREATURE to arrive in the mail.