Tag Archives: Family

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness; Illustrations by Jim Kay

monster callsBibliographic Information:

Ness, P., Kay, J., & Dowd, S. (2011). A monster calls: A novel. Somerville, Mass: Candlewick Press. (9780-763655594)

Plot Summary:

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.

Critical Evaluation:

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 from A Monster Calls

Illustration by Jim Kay from A Monster Calls, written by Patrick Ness. Photograph: Jim Kay and Walker Books from article “How we made A Monster Calls.

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.

Reader’s Annotation:

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

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

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.


  • Realistic
  • Identity
  • Guilt
  • family

Curriculum Ties:

  • English
    • Imagery, character types
  • Art
  • Counseling

Booktalking Ideas:

  • Read one of the monster’s stories
  • Show some of the art in the book

Reading Level/Interest Age:

  • Ages 12 and up

Challenge Issues:

  • N/A

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


This Dark Endeavor by Kenneth Oppel

this dark endeavorBibliographic Information:

Oppel, K. (2011). This dark endeavor. New York: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers. (978-1442403154)

Sequel: Such Wicked Intent

Plot Summary:

Sixteen-year-old Victor Frankenstein and his twin brother, Konrad, share everything. But Victor is more driven and feels the need to be better at everything. Which is why is finds it difficult to understand why his beautiful cousin, Elizabeth, may prefer his brother to himself. The three of them and their friend Henry do everything together.

The Frankenstein family wealthy and titled so Victor is used to getting what he wants with a limited amount of work. Then Konrad becomes very ill. When the friends come across the secret room, the Dark Library, Victor knows that he must make the Elixer of Life to save Konrad’s life.

Critical Evaluation:

Victor is the focus of this gothic tale. Oppel decided to use him as the narrator and as a result, the reader lives through his dark passions and confused motives. His feelings for Elizabeth and his jealous of her budding relationship with his brother creates a strained underlying current in his relationships with both Elizabeth and his brother.

His love for his brother is strong and bright but the Elixer of Life and the Dark Library are forbidden for a reason. The novel explores how one can choose a dangerous path with all the best intentions.

Reader’s Annotation:

Victor Frankenstein will do anything to save his brother from death. “Anything” means creating the Elixer of Life, if he can.

Information About the Author:

Kenneth Oppel was born August 31, 1967 on Vancouver Island in British Columbia. He completed a BA in English and cinema studies at the University of Toronto. He wrote his second children’s book in his final year at university.

Kenneth Oppel says he started writing stories when he was twelve. When he was fourteen he started his first short novel which was passed to Roald Dahl through a family friend. Dahl liked the story and passed it to his literary agent. His first novel was published in 1985.

Since then, Oppel has written a number of award winning books including the Silverwing trilogy, Airborn, and Half Brother (About the author).


  • Horror fiction
  • Mystery fiction

Curriculum Ties:

  • English
    • Prequels to classcis

Booktalking Ideas:

  • Talk about Frankenstein and discuss what would motivate a scientist to try to create life.

Reading Level/Interest Age:

  • Ages 14 and up
  • Reading level 4.3

Challenge Issues:

  • N/A

Why did you include this resource in the titles you selected?:

Kenneth Oppel is an author that has success at the elementary and middle school levels. This Dark Endeavor is appropriate for a high school audience and is an author the students have enjoyed in the past.


  • 2012 Libris Award (Canadian Booksellers Association)
  • Honour Book, Canadian Library Association Young Adult Book Award
  • A 2011 Quill & Quire Book of the Year
  • A 2011 London Times Best Children’s Book

Shortlisted for:

  • Governor General’s Literary Awards
  •  Red Maple Award (OLA)
  • Manitoba Young Reader’s Choice Award


  • This dark endeavor: The apprenticeship of Victor Frankenstein. (2011). Kirkus Reviews, 79(14), 1261.

“Victor too often describes himself in relation to Konrad, but he develops into a complex and troubled character as the inevitable conclusion draws near. A subplot involving a crippled alchemist and his pet lynx steer the story more toward horror and fantasy than Enlightenment-era science fiction.

A dark and dramatic back story for Shelley’s tormented creator.”

  • Campbell, H. M. (2011). This Dark Endeavor: The Apprenticeship of Victor Frankenstein. School Library Journal, 57(10), 144.

“Many details remain the same as in the original work; for instance, Victor’s arrogant desire to overcome the power of illness and death makes him a slightly unlikable protagonist. But here’s a sign of a good storyteller: readers may not like Victor, but they will certainly want to find out what happens to him.”

  • Ritter, C. K. (2011). This Dark Endeavor: The Apprenticeship of Victor Frankenstein. Horn Book Magazine, 87(4), 155.

“Written from Victor’s perspective and filled with his believable internal moral struggles, Oppel’s novel is a gripping tale of undying devotion, mixing hope with foreboding.”


About the author. (n.d.). Retrieved April 19, 2013 from http://www.kennethoppel.ca/pages/biography.shtml