Ness, P., Kay, J., & Dowd, S. (2011). A monster calls: A novel. Somerville, Mass: Candlewick Press. (9780-763655594)
Conor is a 13 year-old-boy who is suffering from a nightmare that he has been having for the past few months. Then, one night, the monster comes. The monster tells Conor that he came because Conor called him.
Conor has a lot to deal with. His mother is dying of cancer and his grandmother is starting to take care of him. His father has his own life and family and is not available for Conor during this crisis. And then there is school. Lately, he has caught the eye of a bully.
The original plot was conceived by Siobban Dowd, as Ness explains in his Author’s note. She died from cancer before writing it herself. The illustrator on the project is Jim Kay. As with a graphic novel, the power of this story comes from the interplay between the text and the illustrations.
The illustrations are dark and vague. They are suggestions that can work with one’s imagination.Kay describes his technique fittingly when he says, “I prefer to work starting from a black canvas and pull the light out, which makes for a much darker image. The important thing was to give the reader the room to create their own characters and images in their mind, I was just putting suggestions of the Monster and Conor in there to help them along the way; darkness and ambiguity allow the reader to illuminate the scenes internally I think” (Ness, P., Kay, J., & guardian.co.uk).
Illustration by Jim Kay from A Monster Calls, written by Patrick Ness. Photograph: Jim Kay and Walker Books
Ness has the chapters with the monster visits and his story interspersed with chapters showing Conor’s life during the day. The monster’s tales are striking. As the monster says, “Stories as the wildest things of all…Stories chase and bite and hunt” ((p. 35) Each story provides Conor a lesson but that lesson may not be the one Conor expects. After the third story, Conor must tell a story and it must be the truth.
A Monster Calls takes the reader on a journey through the emotions of the survivor. It is painful, beautiful, and cathartic. It also holds a lot of symbolism and imagery for discussion in an English class.
A young boy is visited by a monster who forces him to accept some unpleasant truths through a visit every night and the stories he tells. The monster agrees to tell three stories after which Conor must tell his story.
Information About the Author:
Jim Kay studied illustrations at the University of Westminster. Jim Kay loves art and botany. He credits his time at the Kew Gardens as the Assistant Curator for the Illustrations Collection at the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew for introducing him to a variety of resources across the world (Jim Kay biography).
He has also provided images and research for publishers and television companies. In 2008 his one-man exhibition on the theme of producing ideas for children’s book attracted interest. He is now a full-time illustrator.
Jim grew up in Nottinghamshire.
For more information please visit his site.
Patrick Ness has two very different biographies. His personal one is quirky and firmly roots him in the world of supernatural writing. His professional one focuses briefly on his life and delves into his works.
Although Ness was born in Virginia, he admits he has never been back. As an army brat he has lived in Hawaii, Washington, and California. He has called England home since 1999 (Biography, 2013).
Ness studies English Literature at the University of Southern California. He always wanted to be an author so he has tried to make sure all his jobs were related to writing. As a result, he worked as a corporate writer at a cable company, freelanced as a journalist, and taught Creative Writing at Oxford University. He has written for a number of English papers including The Guardian and The Times Literary Supplement.
For more information please visit Patrick Ness’ website.
- Imagery, character types
- Read one of the monster’s stories
- Show some of the art in the book
Reading Level/Interest Age:
- Ages 12 and up
Why did you include this resource in the titles you selected?:
I think it is very important that we have a variety of different resources for students. Many students will experience loss while in the high school years and many do not allow themselves to grieve and the pain is internalized. Books such as A Monster Calls will speak to these students. It is also an excellent book to be deconstructed in an English class. It is short but powerful with great imagery and Ness uses a variety of literary devices in his narrative.
- Carnegie Medal
- Galaxy National Awards Winner
- British Children’s Book of the Year
- Red House Children’s Book Award
- Kitschies Red Tentacle
- Booklist “Top of the List” for 2011 youth fiction
- Ritter, C. K. (2011). A Monster Calls. Horn Book Magazine, 87(5), 93.
“Carnegie Medal–winner Ness’s eloquent tale of pain and loss, inspired by an idea from author Siobhan Dowd prior to her early death from cancer in 2007, is both heart-wrenching and thought-provoking.”
- Welz, K. (2011). A Monster Calls. School Library Journal, 57(9), 164.
“This is an extraordinarily moving story inspired by an idea from author Siobhan Dowd before she passed away. Kay’s shadowy illustrations slither along the borders of the pages and intermingle with text to help set its dark, mysterious mood, while Conor is often seen as a silhouette. A brilliantly executed, powerful tale.”
Biography Patrick Ness. (2013). Retrieved April 12, 2013 from http://www.scholastic.com/teachers/contributor/patrick-ness
Jim Kay biography. (n.d.). Retrieved April 12, 2013 from http://www.alisoneldred.com/biogJimKay.html
Ness, P., Kay, J., & guardian.co.uk. (2012, June 14). How we made A Monster
Calls. Retrieved April 12, 2013, from The Guardian website:
Patrick Ness. (n.d.). Retrieved April 12, 2013 from http://www.patrickness.com/index.html