I recently went to see A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness. Being one of my favourite novels, I was incredibly excited to see this adaptation on screen. I wasn’t disappointed; this film was brilliantly written, directed and produced, with some fabulous performances that brought the characters to life. I was eager to read the reviews after I had seen it (I’m aware it’s been released for some time, but I do lock myself in a work-bubble), and I was surprised to see that some reviewers were unsure of who the film was aimed at, with some even saying it wasn’t a film for children. I can understand parents’ concern; the subject matter of a child coming to terms with his mother’s terminal illness is most certainly not one to be taken lightly. Also, the Monster is a scary beast, who at times, approaches Conor in a quasi-King Kong, crazy-eyed, and generally terrifying way.
This interoperation however wasn’t dramatised for the screen. This threatening, multi-dimensional Monster and heart-breaking topic was just as prevalent in the book. In fact, I found this screenplay to be one of the most faithful book-to-film adaptations I’ve seen in a long time. So what is the difference? What makes it suitable for children in one medium, and not the other?
Sometimes, I find myself falling into a similar thought pattern. For example, I love the Skulduggery series. It’s fun, the characters are bursting with life and the action is there from the get-go. And you know what? Kids (and big kids like myself) absolutely love it. Having said that, as a screenwriter, when I initially read some of the fights, I started to wonder how it could be successfully adapted to the screen, without achieving an adult rating.
– Derek Landy, Skulduggery Pleasant
Of course, it’s not beyond the realm of possibility. My point is though, children’s literature is a lot more sophisticated than it seems, and the readers are just as much so. Yet, for years children’s literature seems to have struggled to be taken seriously. Even the great Oscar Wilde wrote his brilliant fairy tales, yet they were not analysed and studied in the same way that some of his other more adult works were. In fact, in my early university years I wrote a dissertation called To Work in A Coded Way: The Fairy Tales of Oscar Wilde, in an attempt to argue the importance of these stories as they mirrored Wilde’s opinions and thoughts around his personal and private life.
We can see hints of this scattered across the internet today. Most recently, I read a flippant, offhand comment, suggesting that some people looking for simple topics, themes and ideas should read “children’s books”. This surprised me, because nothing about children’s books are simple. Yes, maybe hard-paged, five-hundred-worded books may have straightforward language, but the stories behind them are vivid, at times complex, and introduce children for the first time to world that is not their own. They build what I call the “imaginators”, these young minds who will, in just a few short years, be our future. So if I’m ever told to go back and read a children’s book, I will see it as a compliment or a piece of solid, constructive advice.
With this in mind, children should be recognised as having an elevated intellectual understanding of topics that, while we deem they might not be ready to see just yet (in the case of on screen violence), they are able to visualise and digest, just like a mature reader would do. So yes, A Monster Calls is definitely a children’s novel, and I would not hesitate to bring my nephews to see the on screen adaptation. It is important that we don’t hide children from the big themes, the big stories, or the monsters that hide under the bed (or in this case, in a tree outside a house). Children can have hearts of lions, and interpret these stories in ways that we might not initially expect. If I have learnt something from my sixteen nephew-filled-years, they are always going to surprise you and make you proud.
I love children’s literature. I find the authors brave, and their readers fearless, and they ought to have the credit and understanding that they deserve. That’s why I write for children. If I can gain their respect, then I will consider myself a successful writer.