Thursday, 4 October 2012

What we are reading - A Monster Calls, by Patrick Ness

This Children’s Book Week you might be wondering about the cream of the crop in the world of children’s literature. Everyone has different tastes, of course, but Patrick Ness’ A Monster Calls must be considered among the best of the bunch this year. This book made history in the summer when it became the first book to win both the CILIP Carnegie Medal for best children’s book and the CILIP Greenaway Medal for best illustrations (find out more about these prizes from our previous blog posts).

Hannah, who works in Townhill Library, was quick to snap the book up when it arrived in the library this summer. She shares her thoughts below:-

A Monster Calls – A Novel by Patrick Ness, from an original idea by Siobhan Dowd

This book is interesting for two reasons:
1.       It is the first book to win both The Carnegie Medal and The Greenaway Medal.
2.       The author adapted a story originally thought up by another author; Siobhan Dowd.
Siobhan Dowd wrote in the young adult/teenage category of children’s literature.   Her books ‘A Pure Swift Cry’ shortlisted for The Carnegie Medal in 2007, and ‘Bog Child’ which won the award in 2009 both deal with controversial, and social realist issues.  ‘A Monster Calls’ is aimed a little younger than a typical Dowd book – which is fine: – Ness was not trying to be Dowd; he was writing her story in his own style.
A few pages into ‘A Monster Calls’ I thought I probably wouldn’t finish it.  Even though the illustrations were very creepy, I thought the book was just too young for an adult to give it a fair go.  But something kept me going.  It was deep, dark and intriguing and before long I forgot I was reading a children’s book at all.
Ness worked in his own style, on a story he adapted in his own way, and let it go in its own direction. Yet it still managed to capture the heart wrenching drama and tragedy of a Dowd book. Her books can touch teenagers and adults alike and this story is no different. Yes, the book is about a monster-tree.  But this book about a monster-tree DOES deal with serious issues. This book about a monster-tree CAN be taken seriously by adults.Like any Dowd book, it deals with subjects that are hard to deal with:
Illness and death: “I can’t stand it anymore!.. I can’t stand knowing that she’ll go!”
Bullying: “Harry had tripped Conor coming into the school grounds… And so it had begun…and so it had continued.”

Feeling guilt: the need to be punished: “Why didn’t it kill me?..  I deserve the worst.”

The book also contains three tales told by the monster-tree, which are actually very philosophical. Each of the three tales has a surprising moral to it.  The conclusions about ethics, intentions, justice and punishment are debatable, and will really make children stop and think.  
The story is not only told with Ness’s words, but also with Jim Kay’s pictures.  Each picture, scattered with minute detail is not only a superb piece in its own right, but also compliments and enhances the feel of the story.  The illustrations are thicker and darker when Conor is feeling gloomy; light and minimalist when there is hope in his life.  When Conor is feeling under pressure, the drawings engulf the pages and surround the words creating an almost claustrophobic atmosphere.
This is a thrilling yet moving read, full of twists and irony.  The way the story is told is excellent.  Children will be enthralled within its world of magic and fantasy,   while adults will accept it as realistic and allegorical. The illustrations are dark and detailed; harsh yet elegant. 

Well. That definitely sounds like it’s worth a read! Thanks Hannah. A Monster Calls is available in the Teaching Practice section of Townhill Library, as are the two Siobhan Dowd books mentioned. Hankies at the ready!

1 comment:

  1. Inspiring blog post Hannah, will definitely be having a read :-)