A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that the true monster in this book is not the giant yew tree that comes to life and haunts 13-year-old Conor but is instead the shadow of his mother's imminent death from cancer. Conor deals with his fear in destructive ways, such as challenging the school bully to hurt him and destroying his grandmother's property.
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What's the story?
Thirteen-year-old English schoolboy Conor's mother has been sick for the past year but she is getting treatments, and Conor won't let himself think that she might not get better. Until the night the monster comes. Although Conor feels a surprising lack of fear of the giant walking tree, the monster warns him that he will be afraid before the end, and this warning hangs over the book as readers get to know Conor. At school, Conor has been marked as "the kid whose mother is dying," and as such he feels invisible, except to the boys who bully him. At home, Conor does his best to appear strong and capable to his mother. His father lives in America with his new family, and Conor dreads the times when his strict grandmother comes to help his mother. The monster's visits give Conor the means to vent his anger and unhappiness over what's happening and to allow himself, finally, to become visible.
Is it any good?
Children will be swept up into this honest and compelling story of a boy dealing with his mother's imminent death. Adults might be interested to know that Ness, author of the award-winning Chaos Walking trilogy, wrote this book based on an idea by writer and Carnegie Medal winner Siobhan Dowd, who died of cancer at the age of 47. Supported by Jim Kay's dramatic pen-and-ink illustrations, the story is driven forward by the giant yew tree that comes to life with the express purpose of haunting Conor. One of the most interesting monsters in modern literature -- menacing but somehow protective, fierce and also funny -- he makes Conor's pain more bearable by giving the boy something tangible to fight against. Ness does an amazing job of transforming this difficult subject into a moving tribute to love and loss.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about why Conor isn't scared of the yew tree that comes to life. What is the real monster that Conor can't acknowledge?
Have you ever known anyone who had someone close die? How did you talk to that person about it?
Why do you think Conor feels invisible? What do you think he wishes people would see?
Do you agree with Conor's original opinion of the monster's stories? Do you think the tales are helpful to him?
The monster says, "Stories are the wildest things of all." What do you think he means by that?
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