A Monster Calls

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A Monster Calls
A Monster Calls.jpg
First edition cover
Author Patrick Ness
Illustrator Jim Kay
Cover artist Kay
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Genre Children's fantasy novel
Publisher Walker Books
Publication date
5 May 2011[1]
Media type Print (hardcover)
Pages 214 pp (first edition)
ISBN 978-1-4063-1152-5
OCLC 706028408
LC Class PZ7.N43843 Mok 2011[2]

A Monster Calls is a low fantasy novel written for children by Patrick Ness "from an original idea by Siobhan Dowd", illustrated by Jim Kay, and published by Walker in 2011.[1] Set in present-day England, it features a boy who struggles to cope with the consequences of his mother's terminal cancer; he is serially visited in the middle of the night by a monster who tells stories. Dowd suffered from terminal cancer herself when she started the story and died before she could write it.[3]

Author Ness and illustrator Kay won the Carnegie Medal and the Greenaway Medal in 2012, the "year's best" children's literary awards by the British librarians (CILIP). A Monster Calls is the only book whose author and illustrator, whether two persons or one, have won both Medals.[4][5][6][7]


Siobhan Dowd conceived the novel during her own terminal illness. She discussed it and contracted to write it with editor Denise Johnstone-Burt at Walker Books, who also worked with Ness. After Dowd's death in August 2007, Walker arranged for Ness to write the story. Later, Walker and Ness arranged for Jim Kay to illustrate it, but Ness and Kay did not meet until after it was published in May 2011.[3][7]

After winning the Carnegie, Ness discussed the writing with The Guardian newspaper:[3]

I wouldn't have taken it on if I didn't have complete freedom to go wherever I needed to go with it. If I'd felt hampered at all – again, even for very good reasons – then that harms the story, I think. And I did this not for egomaniacal reasons, that my decisions were somehow automatically right or some such nonsense, but because I know that this is what Siobhan would have done. She would have set it free, let it grow and change, and so I wasn't trying to guess what she might have written, I was merely following the same process she would have followed, which is a different thing.
I always say it felt like a really private conversation between me and her, and that mostly it was me saying, "Just look what we're getting away with."

Kay was selected based on illustrating one scene, solicited by art director Ben Norland:[3]

Due to other commitments I had a weekend to produce an image, and I very hastily created the scene of the Monster leaning against the house. It was a technique I hadn't tried before, dictated to some degree by the time constraints, which in hindsight may have helped.
I imagine the story as a moving film or piece of theatre, and I start building the props and setting the scenery around the characters. I love atmosphere, and I guess that's what I wanted to contribute. If I'd been left alone I would have avoided all of the key scenes, I was nervous about dealing with them, but Ben was fantastic in giving the book structure and, thankfully, insisting that I should tackle the explosive, energetic elements of the book.


The story opens with 13-year-old Conor waking from the same nightmare he has been experiencing for the past few months, "the one with the darkness and the wind and the screaming". At seven minutes after midnight (12:07), a voice calls to him from outside his bedroom window, which overlooks an old church and its graveyard and is sheltered by a yew tree. Walking to the window, Conor meets the monster, a towering mass of branches and leaves in human shape. The monster insists that Conor summoned it, and that it will help Conor by telling him three short stories. In exchange Conor must tell his own story afterward.

The monster continues to meet Conor, almost always at 12:07 am, to tell its stories. Between its tales, which aim to demonstrate the complications inherent in humans, it is revealed that Conor's mother is undergoing chemotherapy and has been afflicted with cancer for the past few months. His father is nowhere to console him, and a cold relationship with his grandmother provides no comfort either. Conor is a victim of bullying at school and he has distanced himself from all other social contact. As the story progresses, his mother's condition worsens.

Conor's encounters with the monster have escalating consequences. While the first story has no real impact on Conor's life, the second story leads to being blamed for the monster vandalising his grandmother's living room, and the third leads to physically assaulting Harry, the school bully, after brief possession by the monster.

When he is forced to tell his own nightmare, however, Conor finally begins to confront his feelings. Ultimately the monster comforts him, revealing that its purpose has been to heal him. The novel closes with Conor accepting his mother's imminent death and the changes it will bring to his life. At 12:07 his mother sadly dies in the hospital .

Critical reception[edit]

A Monster Calls received largely favourable reviews. Philip Pullman, author of the fantasy trilogy His Dark Materials, praised the novel as "compelling... powerful and impressive",[citation needed] while Meg Rosoff commended Ness on his writing: "This is storytelling as it should be - harrowing, lyrical and transcendent."[1] Similarly, New York Times critic Jessica Bruder wrote "this is one profoundly sad story" and called the novel "a potent piece of art," applauding Kay's illustrations.[8] Daniel Hahn from The Independent also praised A Monster Calls, saying that it was "brave and beautiful, full of compassion," and that "the result trembles with life."[9] Publisher's Weekly gave it a starred review and called it "a singular masterpiece."[10]


Ness and Kay won the Carnegie and Greenaway Medals for writing and illustration, recognising the year's best work published in the UK.[4][5] The double win alone is unprecedented in more than fifty years since the illustration award was established.[6][7] A Monster Calls also won the British Children's Book of the Year, voted by an "academy of 750 book industry experts";[11][12] the Red House Children's Book Award, overall, a national award voted by British children;[13][14] and the Kitschies Red Tentacle award for speculative fiction, best novel published in the UK.[15] In the U.S., the American Library Association magazine Booklist named it the "Top of the List" for 2011 youth fiction.[16]

Daily newspapers including The Independent,[17] Chicago Sun-Times,[18] and The Wall Street Journal[19] named it to year-end "Best" lists.

Film adaptation[edit]

On 5 March 2014, Focus Features bought the film rights to the book for $20 million.[20] On 9 April 2014, it was announced that a film based on the book will be released by Focus Features on 14 October 2016.[21] The film will be directed by Juan Antonio Bayona and written by the book's author Patrick Ness.[22] On 23 April 2014 Felicity Jones joined the film to play the boy's mother.[23] On 8 May, Liam Neeson joined the film to play the Monster.[24] On 18 August, Sigourney Weaver joined to play the boy's grandmother.[25] On 19 August, Toby Kebbell also joined the film.[26]


  1. ^ a b c "A Monster Calls / By Patrick Ness, Siobhan Dowd / Illustrated by Jim Kay". Walker Books. Retrieved 2012-07-29. This presentation by the publisher includes excerpts from book reviews.
  2. ^ "A monster calls: a novel" (first U.S. edition). Library of Congress Catalog Record. Retrieved 2012-07-29.
  3. ^ a b c d Ness, Patrick and Jim Kay (14 June 2012). "How we made A Monster Calls: As their book wins the Carnegie and Kate Greenaway medals, writer Patrick Ness and illustrator Jim Kay explain how they worked together, without ever meeting, to unleash a monster hit". guardian.co.uk. Retrieved 2012-06-14.
  4. ^ a b (Carnegie Winner 2012). Living Archive: Celebrating the Carnegie and Greenaway Winners. CILIP. Retrieved 2012-11-04.
  5. ^ a b (Greenaway Winner 2012). Living Archive: Celebrating the Carnegie and Greenaway Winners. CILIP. Retrieved 2012-11-04.
  6. ^ a b "Releases for 2012 Awards". Press Desk. CILIP. Retrieved 2012-11-04.
  7. ^ a b c Prendergast, Lara (14 Jun 2012). "A Monster Calls". Lara Prendergast. The Telegraph. Retrieved 2012-06-14.
  8. ^ Bruder, Jessica (14 October 2011). "It takes A Monster to Learn How To Grieve". The New York Times. Retrieved 2012-11-05. 
  9. ^ Hahn, Daniel (10 May 2011). "A Monster Calls ...: Nightmarish Tale Goes Like A Dream". The Independent. Retrieved 2011-12-07. 
  10. ^ "Children's Review: A Monster Calls". Publisher's Weekly. 23 June 2011. Retrieved 2012-04-16. 
  11. ^ "Winners 2011". National Book Awards. nationalbookawards.co.uk. Retrieved 2012-11-04.
  12. ^ Flood, Alison (4 November 2011). "Alan Hollinghurst puts Booker snub behind him with Galaxy triumph". Alison Flood. guardian.co.uk. Retrieved 2012-11-04.
  13. ^ "Past Winners". Red House Children's Book Award. Retrieved 2012-11-04. 
  14. ^ Jones, Charlotte (18 February 2012). "Children vote A Monster Calls best book of 2012". Charlotte Jones. guardian.co.uk. Retrieved 2012-11-04.
  15. ^ "The Kitschies: The Red Tentacle" (current year). The Kitschies. Retrieved 2012-11-04.
  16. ^ American Library Association (20 December 2011). "Booklist announces prestigious 2011 Top of the List selections". Retrieved 2011-12-30. 
  17. ^ Tucker, Nicholas (23 December 2011). "Tall tales for tots or teens: The year's best books for young readers". The Independent. Retrieved 2011-12-30. 
  18. ^ "Our favourite books of 2011". Chicago Sun-Times. 25 December 2011. Retrieved 2011-12-30. 
  19. ^ Gurdon, Meghan Cox (17 December 2011). "Setting an Imagination Alight". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 2011-12-31. 
  20. ^ Fleming, Mike. "Focus Features Makes $20 Million Deal For 'A Monster Calls' Movie". Deadline.com. Retrieved 2014-04-09. 
  21. ^ "Focus Features Sets A Monster Calls for October 14, 2016". ComingSoon.net. Retrieved 2014-04-09. 
  22. ^ "Focus Dates 'A Monster Calls' For October 2016". Deadline.com. 1970-01-01. Retrieved 2014-04-09. 
  23. ^ "Felicity Jones To Star In Juan Antonio Bayona’s ‘A Monster Calls’". deadline.com. 23 April 2014. Retrieved 24 April 2014. 
  24. ^ McClintock, Pamela (8 May 2014). "Cannes: Liam Neeson Joins 'A Monster Calls'". hollywoodreporter.com. Retrieved 10 May 2014. 
  25. ^ "Sigourney Weaver Joins High-Profile 'A Monster Calls'". hollywoodreporter.com. 
  26. ^ "‘Fantastic Four’ Actor Toby Kebbell in Talks to Join ‘A Monster Calls’". variety.com. 

External links[edit]

Preceded by
Monsters of Men
Carnegie Medal recipient
Succeeded by
Maggot Moon