Tag Archives: fantasy

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


White Cat by Holly Black

white catBibliographic Information:

Black, H. (2010). White cat: #1 of The curse workers. New York: Margaret K. McElderry Books. (978-1416963974)

Curse Workers, 2: Red Glove

Curse Workers, 3: Black Heart

Plot Summary:

Cassel Sharpe is an ordinary teenage boy and that’s the problem. In a family of curse works he is expendable. It does not matter that working people is illegal and that everyone wears gloves because it takes skin contact in order to for someone to “work” you. What does matter is that he even without the talent he killed the girl he loved when he was 14 and his family covered it out.

He has the genes for crime so he is the school bookie and can run a con as well as anyone in the family but he is not a worker. So, at school, even though he is as normal as any other kid at school, he still has habits and connections to the Zacharov crime family that he needs to keep hidden. As a result, he really cannot fit into either world.

When he starts having dreams about a white cat and ends up sleep walking he starts to wonder if maybe something is not quite right with his view his world. Could it be that he has been worked? And if so, what possible reason could there be?

Critical Evaluation:

White Cat told from Cassel’s perspective. As a result, the narrative feels slightly jaded and often reads world-weary. Cassel has difficulty making friends because he does not want anyone to know about his connection with organized crime. Besides, it is embarrassing for a guy to admit that his mother is in jail for working a millionaire. Through Cassel’s eyes, the reader can also understand how it feels to be the nobody in a family of talented workers.

Cassel’s reminiscing about his past also provides a detailed backstory that provides the clues for the action of the present. The character of Cassel is one of the greatest strengths of the story. He is a complex character; both bad – he commits crimes and runs a bookie operation – and good. He is sensitive and protective of his friends. He wants to do the right thing but he also has to protect his family. He is both the crook and the victim.

Black has always melded reality with fantasy in her writing. In this series, the two are so intertwined that the magical is just part of the reality. She has created a complex reality where workers suffer discrimination and that discrimination has pushed workers into a world of crime ruled by crime lords.

Reader’s Annotation:

Cassel Sharpe is a con man with a sarcastic wit but he is non-magical and is definitely not a worker. So why is he having crazy dreams and sleepwalking on roofs? It is possible that the con man is being played?

Information About the Author:

Holly Black is a well-established, prolific author for children and young adults. Her bibliography includes The Spiderwick Chronicles (with Tony DiTerlizzi), Tithe: A Modern Faerie Tale and Zombies vs. Unicorns. She has also written poetry and short stories.

Black was born in New Jesey in 1971. She graduated from The College of New Jersey in 1995. She then worked as a production editor and attended graduate school at Rutgers (Biography Holly Black).

For more information please see her website.

Please check out Scholastic site for a video interview with Holly Black.


  • Science fiction
  • Urban fantasy

Curriculum Ties:

  • N/A

Booktalking Ideas:

  • Include in booklist of the best of the good bad guys.
  • Read one of the sleepwalking scenes.

Reading Level/Interest Age:

  • Ages 12 and up

Challenge Issues:

The Curse Workers series are not likely to be challenged in high schools because there are not graphic descriptions. However, it is possible that the actions of the characters may be objectionable to some.

    • drinking, gambling, stealing, drug use

Challenge plan:

  1. Listen to the critic to understand what the concerns are.
    • Ask if he/she has read the book
    • Ask if he/she has spoken to his/her child about the concerns.
  2. Explain rationale for including the book in the collection.
  3. Provide CLA Position Statement on Intellectual Freedom and CLA’s Position Statement of Diversity and Inclusion document.
    • Provide school’s selection policy.
    • Provide list of reviews/lists
  4. If necessary, provide a “Request for Reconsideration form”

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

I decided to include White Cat because my students will love Cassel’s irony and dry humour. It is dark enough to border on horror without stepping over that line.


  • Sparks, L. J. (2010). White Cat. School Library Journal, 56(6), 94.

“Black has written a dark coming-of-age tale with a likable hero. Teens will empathize with Cassel’s desire to fit in and his occasional clashes with his family while rooting for him to unravel the conspiracy.”

  • White cat: The Curse Workers, Book 1. (2010). Kirkus Reviews, 78(7), 302.

“Forget fairy tales. The first in Black’s new series is a dark, complex Chinese puzzle box, full of cons, criminals and curses–a denigrating term for magic in a world where it’s outlawed.”

“Urban fantasy, con story, coming of age–whatever you call it, read it.”


About Holly Black. (n.d.). Retrieved May 9, 2013 from http://www.blackholly.com/biography.html

Biography Holly Black. (2013). Retrieved May 9, 2013 from http://www.scholastic.com/teachers/contributor/holly-black

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

seraphina Bibliographic information

Hartman, R. (2012). Seraphina. Toronto: Doubleday Canada. (978-0-385-66839-2)

Plot summary

Sixteen-year-old Seraphina Dombegh is a gifted musician who has just recently found a place in the royal court as a new assistant to the court composer. Her love of music encouraged her to defy her father and come to court even though she had been taught to blend in and hide since childhood as her mere existence is considered an aberration to both sides of her parentage. Her mother was a saarantrai; a dragon in human form. It wasn’t until her death and Seraphina’s birth that her father learned that the woman he loved wasn’t really a human.

Seraphina’s musical talents draw her into the inner circle of the Princess  Glisselda and her fiancé, Prince Lucien Kiggs. As Seraphina’s knowledge about dragons becomes known, she finds herself in the unique position of helping Kiggs, who is also Captain of the Queen’s Guard, try to solve a mysterious murder. She has come into the world of court at a time of high drama; it appears that Prince Rufus was killed by a dragon just before Ardmagar Comonot, the dragon’s leader, arrives to celebrate the anniversary of a treaty between their two nations. Someone is trying to destroy that peace treaty and Seraphina may hold the key to peace – or to war. But the more time she spends with the observant Captain, the closer he gets to learning her terrible secret.

Critical evaluation

Hartman’s debut novel, Seraphina, received a number of richly deserved accolades including the 2013 YALSA Morris Award for Best YA Debut Novel and the Cybils Award for Fantasy and Science Fiction. Seraphina was also a finalist for the 2012 Governor General’s Literary Award (Canada), short-listed for the Kitschies’ Golden Tentacle Award (UK), and long-listed for the Carnegie Medal (“Seraphina”).

Hartman’s tightly spun plot tells the story of the musically talented Seraphina. Told through Seraphina’s voice, the reader is first introduced to a scared young woman afraid to be noticed. As the plot develops, however, Seraphina’s character is shown to be increasingly complex as the reader is given glimpses of the depth of her confusion and self-loathing about her dragon heritage as she relates memories of her childhood. This coming-of-age story follows a remarkable heroine on her road to self-acceptance.

The kingdom of Goredd has the flavour of the Italian Renaissance with the rich interest in the arts, opulent dress, and focus on politics. Indeed, Hartman has aptly developed two cultures; one based on humanism focusing on creativity, art and emotion and the other based on the founding ideals of the Enlightenment with its focus the intellect, reason, and objectivity. These two ideals are embodied in the character of Seraphina who, being half dragon and half human, is struggling to accept herself as something more than the monster that both societies view her as.

Reader’s annotation

Seraphina’s gift of music came from her dragon heritage. But, when a dragon becomes the main suspect in a royal murder, that closely guarded secret could undermine her growing relationship with Prince Lucien Kiggs, destroy her family and, perhaps, throw the kingdom into war.

Information about the author

According to her website, http://rachelhartmanbooks.com , Rachel was born in Kentucky. She has lived throughout the United States, England, and Japan and currently lives in Vancouver, BC, Canada. She has a BA in Comparative Literature but “eschewed graduate school in favour of drawing comic books.”

Challenge issues:

  • none

Seraphina is her first novel.

Genre: Fantasy fiction, subgenre: animal

Curriculum ties: none

Booktalking ideas:

  • Read the section where Seraphina is describing her garden
  • Internal struggle for identity
  • Conflict of the rational vs emotion
  • Use of music as a plot device
  • Fear of the “other”
  • Book trailer

Reading level/interest:

  • 15 and up
  • Grade level 4.6

Why did you include this title?:

  • Canadian author
  • Winner of the 2013 YALSA Morris Award for Best YA Debut Novel, Cybils Award,Finalist for the 2012 Governor General’s Literary Award (Canada),Short-listed for the Kitschies’ Golden Tentacle Award (UK),Long-listed for the Carnegie Medal
  • Received starred reviews from Horn Book, Publisher’s Weekly, School Library Journal, Booklist, Kirkus, and The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books.

City of a Thousand Dolls by Miriam Forster

City-of-a-Thousand-Dolls1 City of a Thousand Dolls  by Miriam Forster

Bibliographic information:

Forster, M. (2013). City of a Thousand Dolls. New York: HarperTeen. (978-0-06-212130-1).

Plot summary:

Nisha was abandoned at the gates of the City of a Thousand Dolls as a young child. The City of a Thousand Dolls is a place where orphan and unwanted girls are placed as infants or young children. There, they are trained in one of the eight houses to be musicians, healers, courtesans, and wives of nobility. Nisha arrived at the City too old to be placed in any of the Houses and so her place is somewhat tenuous as she belongs to none of the Houses but has trained in most of them. Over time, she found a place for herself as a servant and assistant to the Matron of the City.

She is now old enough to take part in the Redeeming. During the Redeeming, a person can claim a girl as an apprentice or a wife by paying a specified price, which is intended to compensate the City for her training. Nisha knows her chances of being chosen are slim but when she catches the eye of a young noble, she begins to dream that he will speak for her and she will be able to leave the City of Dolls for a new life. Nisha’s dreams are further imperiled when she catches the eye of another, who is willing to purchase her as a slave prior to the Redeeming; something that could happen because of her murky past and lack of connections.

When a series of murders threaten the security of the City, Nisha bargains to try to solve the mysterious deaths in exchange for her own freedom.

Critical evaluation:

Forster allows Nisha to tell her own story choosing to use first person narrative. This convention is common in both mystery fiction and in young adult literature. By using this convention, the author allows the reader immediate access into the thoughts and feelings of her protagonist; a successful technique when writing for a teen audience. Using first person narrative is also traditional in mysteries allowing the reader to uncover clues at the same time as the narrator.

The plot of the story follows many of the conventions found in fantasy writing; a mysterious heritage, unknown protector, and magical creatures. There is little new in this. Forster’s novel is successful, to a large measure, because of her well-thought out setting. By setting her story into a South-Asian inspired context, she is able to bring the real issue of a controlled family size policy found in China with a culture of undervaluing girls to her fantasy. These concepts provide a very modern context for the fictional City of a Thousand Dolls. To this, she has added the details to provide further foundation to her story; the girls being trained for specific tasks by the different houses, which provides some excellent secondary characters for Nisha to interact with.

Reader’s annotation:

Nisha must solve the murders occurring in the City of a Thousand Dolls to save her own life and the life of her friends. While trying to uncover the mystery, Nisha soon learns that there is more to her own story than what she was led to believe when she was abandoned at the gates of the City years below. Do the nomadic Kildi play a role in the murders? And what do the tribe of cats who call the City home know of the present mystery and her own murky past?

Information about the author:

City of a Thousand Dolls is the debut novel by Miriam Forster. In her blog, Dancing with Dragons is hard on Your Shoes, she describes herself as a “recovering barista” and “a bit of a hermit.” She is currently working on a companion book.


  • Mystery
  • Fantasy
  • Romance

Curriculum ties:

  • Social justice issues
  • World History – China: one child policy, India: caste system

Booktalking ideas:

Reading level/interest:  13 and up

Challenge issues:

  • N/A

Why did you include this book in the titles chosen?:

  • City of a Thousand Dolls was recommended by an avid teen reader who appreciated the originality of the setting and characters that wraps a tradition fantasy theme of a young protagonist finding out she is special and in the process becomes a hero. I included it because of the mystery elements.

Red Glove by Holly Black

 My main complaint with Red Glove is the cover. It is always hard to convince young men to read books when the cover appeals more to the ladies. Gentlemen, this book is about a guy – Cassel Sharpe – and a family of curse workers. Don’t let the cover fool you – it is worth picking up.

If you like realistic fantasy that has humour, action, and interesting twists, this series is one you should try, but read the first one, White Cat, before picking this one up. The characters are quirky, the plot is quick and entertaining.

Don’t want to say more than that in case you haven’t read the first one.


 I downloaded Chime from my public library a few weeks ago. Now, I have to say that I am not usually an audiobook user because I get impatient with how long it takes to get through a book I have to listen to. I also get frustrated with the limited number of options some books provide in devices that can be used to listen. In this case, I had to download it to my computer, which is difficult to carry on a run. Enough of that rant.

I loved the flow of narrative in this interpretation of the book. The narrator, Susan Duerden, is perfect and the story is compelling. Briony’s first person narrative allows the reader to feel her confusion and pain while building suspense. A great addition to a great list. Strong characterization and a setting that becomes an integral part of the story, it’s well worth reading. Will not be a hit with my teen guys, unfortunately.

Paladin Prophecy by Mark Frost

I finished reading The Paladin Prophecy over Spring Break; a difficult task as my son kept beating me to the Kindle – a sure sign that a book will be successful. I think I won this race because I am a faster reader. I can’t arm wrestle him for the books anymore –  he’s as big as me.

As the cowriter of the screenplay for the film Fantastic Four, Mark Frost knows how to create a fast paced, action filled plot with more twists and turns than a rollercoaster. In this modern fantasy, Will West has been taught to stay in the middle of the pack by his careful parents. In fact, rule number 3 in “Dad’s List of Rules to Live By” is: Don’t draw attention to yourself. When Will scores unexpectedly high on a nationwide test he suddenly learns why he should always live by Dad’s rules.

Now as Will is hiding from the men in black who kidnapped his parents in an exclusive prep-school, he finds himself in the middle of an out-of-this world plot involving a secret society, guardian angels, computer games, and creatures from the Never-Was. Lucky for Will, he has found a cadre of friends as unusual as he turning out to be.

Frost has created a superhero plot worthy of any Marvel comic. What saves this story from being too excessive is Frost’s use of humor and the central focus on Will’s struggle to understand the bizarre world he is now part of.

If the reader is willing to suspend his disbelief long enough to be caught in the suspense he will enjoy the ride – and look out for the sequel.

For ages 12 and up. 3/5 stars.

The Paladin Prophecy will be in stores in September 2012