A Monster Calls- summary of our discussion

We’ve decided to post up a summary of our meeting on 13th March and our discussion of Patrick Ness’ A Monster Calls so that those of you who are interested can look back over it. People who couldn’t attend the meeting can also look it over and see what issues were raised. Do feel free to let me know if I’ve missed anything out, and please add to the discussion if you noted anything else about the novel worth mentioning!- Tom


Patrick Ness’ A Monster Calls sparked some interesting discussion. First among the issues raised was the question of the novel’s intended audience. A Monster Calls won the Carnegie Medal for both its writing and illustration, an award reserved for children’s fiction; however, many readers claimed that they were able to appreciate the story on an emotional level which they claimed might only be accessible to older readers (such as the tragic circumstances of a mother having to leave behind her own son, instead of vice versa). It is note worthy that the illustrated edition has little indication on its its cover of even being a children’s book at all; the front cover simply claims that the book is “A novel by Patrick Ness based on an idea by Siobhan Dowd”- prior knowledge of the publisher (Walker Publishing) and the author(s) would arguably be necessary to determine the book’s target audience.


This question also led into a debate about whether the book was suited for younger children. On the one hand, the book can be seen as beneficial for younger readers- it assumes a certain level of reading maturity on behalf of the reader by not spelling out particular concepts such as what a character is feeling emotionally (Ness chooses to describe facial expressions and body languages as opposed to phrases such as “Grandma looked angry”), and avoiding the actual use of the terms “cancer” and “death” as much as possible, which are again only implied or hinted it without being mentioned by name (as far as I can recall). However, it was also argued that the depth of the emotion in the book and its full implications might not appeal to or be appreciated by younger readers, although the central issues of the book were generally agreed to be universally accessible.


The novel’s illustrations were also discussed- the scale of Jim Kay’s illustrations (which either depict huge objects, landscapes, or exaggerate things to great size to the extend that each double page illustration also extends to each page either side of it) was likened to the scale of emotion in the book, and the central character being confronted with a situation far beyond the scope of his initial understanding. The inclusion of illustrations at the side of some pages (in particular before and after a double-page illustration) might also be seen as a subtle driving force behind the narrative- encouraging the reader to turn the page is important in children’s literature for the development of reading stamina. This might also explain why the illustrations were chosen to be (sadly, in my opinion) omitted from the “adult” version of the text, as their purpose is diminished by assumption that adult readers do not require this encouragement. In my opinion, the illustrations have their own artistic merit beyond acting as a technical driving force behind the narrative: the drawing style is unique and complex, and suit the tone of the novel well. The fact that these illustrations were removed from the “adult” copy might also lead into further debate and thought, such as whether illustration traditionally being associated with children’s texts reduces their artistic credibility as a contribution to the narrative.


The scale of the illustrations in relation to the level of emotion that takes place within the book was also likened to the destruction which takes place in the novel. Despite the book’s assertion that there are no ultimately good or bad people, it also seems to carry the message that we should set our own limits when it comes to expressing our own emotions, especially if they are destructive. Conor is never punished for his acts as they are a result of his distress; but in spite of that he comes to understand that what he is doing is hurting those around him. The destruction of his grandmother’s living room comes as such a shock because we are led to believe that the monster had given Conor a safe place to vent his frustrations. Perhaps the message here is that the way that we express ourselves always has an impact on those closest to us- we need to find the right way to share what we are feeling with one another.


Would you share this novel with a child who is experiencing the same thing as Conor? What about the children surrounding this child? The group remained divided on these questions. It was argued that the book might teach a child to develop their own approach or solution to a problem, and by introducing the book’s own solution to a child, it could by interpreted as preaching that Conor’s way is the right or only way. On the other hand, the book approaches Conor’s situation with tact and realism, which suggests reduces the danger of a child reading the text as patronising towards their situation.


Next Meeting!

Thank you to everyone who came to our last meeting, it was a great success and so nice to meet everyone!

For our next meeting, on the 13th of March, we will be reading A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness and copies of these are available to collect at the Forum library! We look forward to seeing everyone at our next meeting to discuss the novel!


KidLit in UEA Venue

The following article was published in Issue 278 of Venue, the culture supplement to Concrete: the UEA’s official student newspaper.

Read it here

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Text by Thomas High

    The books you read as a child have had more of an impact than you think. From Alice in Wonderland to The Very Hungry Caterpillar, these staples of children’s literature have deeply engrained themselves into our minds and our culture, their characters and stories influencing generation after generation.
The children’s literature module at the UEA School of Literature, Drama and Creative Writing is among the most oversubscribed in the faculty, indicating that the exploration of these texts from a new perspective, other than being read to at bedtime, is an idea which appeals greatly to the hearts of students. In fact, some students on the children’s literature module last semester did not want the discussion to end after twelve weeks, and have begun a new initiative to open up the examination of children’s literature to all UEA students and to the wider community.
Next month sees the beginning of an exciting new discussion group, for adults to explore children’s literature and its cultural, historical and social impact alongside UEA staff and students, and the Norfolk and Norwich Millennium Library. Hosted by Dr B.J. Epstein, organiser of the children’s literature module at UEA, and students of the module, the group will hold its first meeting on February 13th at 5:30pm in the training room at the Forum. The group is open to everyone, whether they are from UEA or outside university.
The first session invites attendees to bring along one of their favourite childhood books in order to share and discuss it with everybody. The following sessions will have the group read the same children’s book together each month and discuss it. Such texts will range from undeniable childhood classics like Peter Pan, to modern publications like A Monster Calls. So, if the idea of exploring children’s literature from a fresh new perspective appeals to you, come along to the first session and don’t forget to bring that favourite book!
For more information about exactly what the group will entail, please e-mail Dr B.J. Epstein at B.Epstein@uea.ac.uk and keep an eye out for posters advertising ‘We Need to Talk About KidLit’. And be sure to follow @NorwichKidLit and @bjepstein on Twitter to join in the discussion of children’s literature from wherever you are!

Introducing us…

From Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland to The Very Hungry Caterpillar, children’s literature continues to influence generation after generation.

Starting on 13th February at 5.30 pm, UEA staff and students in conjunction with the Norfolk and Norwich Millennium Library will be hosting a new book group at the library at the Forum, aimed at adults who are interested in in children’s books and their cultural, historical and social contexts and impact.

This new group came out of the third-year course in children’s literature in the School of Literature, Drama and Creative Writing, which is run by Dr B.J. Epstein. Epstein says, “I had extremely engaged – and engaging – students this year and we had such fascinating discussions that some of us didn’t want it to end when the semester was over. What’s more, we felt that it was such an important topic that we didn’t think it should be limited just to the classroom. It’s sometimes easy to forget that the university is situated in a city, so with this new group, we want to reach out to citizens and share our passion for this topic. We’re convinced that everyone can learn from and be stimulated by children’s literature, so we hope to facilitate that and to encourage people to think about children, childhood, and children’s lit, as well as about society and life in general.

In the first session, the group invites people to bring their favourite children’s book and to share it with the rest of the attendees. After that, the group will read the same book each month, and the organisers plan to range from early children’s books, such as Peter Pan, through the most recent publications, such as Patrick Ness’s A Monster Calls, and including both English-language texts and translations.

One of Epstein’s students, Emily Hibbs, says, “Revisiting children’s literature in a university setting completely changed my perspective on the books I loved when I was young.  I want to help with this new discussion group so I can continue this exploration, and I think it’ll be great to offer others in the community the same opportunity.”

Epstein and her students are also now tweeting about children’s literature at @NorwichKidLit.

If the idea of revisiting classics and making new discoveries appeals to you, then come along to the first meeting. The “kidlitters” hope to see you there!