The True Tale Of The Monster Billy Dean

Billy Dean is a secret child. He has a beautiful young mother and a father who arrives at night carrying the scents of candles and incense and cigarettes. Birds fly to his window. Mice run out from his walls. His world is a carpet, a bed, pictures of the holy island, and a single locked door. His father fills his mind and his dreams with mysterious tales and memories and dreadful warnings. But then his father disappears, and Billy’s mother brings him out into the world at last. He learns the horrifying story of what was saved and what was destroyed on the day he was born, the day the bombers came to Blinkbonny. The kind butcher, Mr. McCaufrey, and the medium, Missus Malone, are waiting for him. He becomes The Angel Child, one who can heal the living, contact the dead, bring comfort to a troubled world.

One thought on “The True Tale Of The Monster Billy Dean

  1. Marilyn Carpenter says:

    . . . continued from Mortal Fire
    Holly, I have gone back over reviews that I have written for my blog. I have found five titles that have strong connections to the books we have discussed particularly with the issues we have highlighted.
    A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness, inspired by an idea from Slobhan Dowd. Illustrated by Jim Kay. (2011). 204 pages. Candlewick Press. Ages 11-adult.
    This powerful book enthralled me from the first pages. I think it is one of the most compelling and honest novels I have ever read. Colin’s mother is dying of cancer and he is haunted by a monster. Is the monster part of a nightmare or, is it real? Will the monster help Colin face the truth of his mother’s situation? The ending is tremendously moving and brought me to tears. I see this book connecting to our four books with their themes of power, magic and secrets.
    The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson. (2011).. 422 pages. Greenwillow. Ages 12-adult. Fantasy. What a captivating, fantastic romance and adventure. The heroine is a princess who has always believed that she is nothing compared to her older sister. How she discovers her own strength, intelligence and ability to lead makes an engrossing and enchanting story. This book particularly connects to Mortal Fire. The heroines in each go through a journey of discovering their own powers and how to use those powers to help others.
    Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater. 409 pages. Scholastic. Ages 11-16. Fantasy. This title also considers the themes of power, secrets and magic. Stiefvater imagines an island world where dangerous horses, capaill uisce, emerge from the sea to be tamed (somewhat) and run on race day in November. The opening line hooks the reader, “It is the first day of November and so, today, someone will die.” Only the capaill uisce are raced on the beach against the cliffs in November. Two teens alternately tell their stories of preparing for the race. The two stories seamlessly merge by the end of the book. Sean at age ten saw his father killed in the race, viciously pulled from his saddle by a capaill uisce and trampled to death. Later, Sean becomes a gifted trainer of the capaill uisce. But he works for the richest man on the island and although he has won the race four times, he hopes to win again to gain the horse he loves. Puck’s desperate goal is win the race so she can use the award money to save her family farm for herself and her brothers. Only, her problem is that no girl or woman has ever ridden in the race and, instead of riding one of the magic water horses, she wants to ride her own land pony. The novel is a page turner as it races toward a resolution. Beware don’t start it late at night. Romance, adventure and a cast of intriguing characters are the story elements that zip the story along. The island setting takes an active role in the plot. The author was inspired by several myths about dangerous fairy horses from the sea that have been told in the British Isles.
    Slog’s Dad by David Almond. Illus. Dave McKean. (2011) 58 pages. Candlewick Press. Grades 4-8. Novel. This book connects in a different way to our textset. The strongest connection is with the Almond title about Billy Dean. In this book the team of Almond and McKean has created a memorable short novel that also resonates long after the last page is read. The illustrations begin the story with the first few pages showing the heavens and then successively focusing on a tiny green dot that becomes the earth then closer views as if coming in from outer space. England comes into focus, then a city, an urban park and next a figure sitting on a park bench with the final illustrations showing close up views of the man on the bench. Then the text begins. The narrator, Davie, tells how his friend, Slog, and he have been playing all day. As the boys go to buy a sandwich, Slog notices the figure on the park bench across the square. He believes it is his dad come back from the dead. Davie then tells the backstory of Slog’s dad, his work as a binman forever singing hymns as collected the town’s trash. “…everybody liked Slog’s dad, Joe Mickley, a daft and canny soul.” Then Joe becomes ill and Slog looks for comfort from Davie especially when Joe’s legs have to be amputated and he dies. Slog cries out to Davie – “I’m bigger than me dad, Davie. I’m bigger than me bliddy dad!” Slog’s encounter with the man in the park convinces him that his dad is back as he promised in the spring. Davie is not too sure even when he tests the man with questions about his life. The reader is left uncertain. However, the power of this story is that it leaves the reader with questions. How do we deal with our grief? What comforts us when we lose someone we love? What do we believe about life after death? McKean’s illustrations alternate with the text on separate pages and add drama to the story. Use the document camera to show the illustrations if you read this book aloud in your classroom. The British vocabulary enriches the story and should spark discussion about the differences in the way English is spoken in different parts of the world.
    Incarceron by Catherine Fisher. (2010). Dial. 442 pages. Grades 7 and up. Fantasy Novel.
    This complex fantasy grabs the reader’s attention on the very first page. “Finn had been flung on his face and chained to the stone slabs of the transitway.” The transitway is a highway inside the prison, Incarceron. But this prison, Incarceron, is unlike any known to the reader. No one comes in or leaves this prison. The prison has been sealed for centuries and some of the people inside have become savages. The prison is ruled by an all-knowing eye that watches each prisoner and deals out punishments. Seventeen year old Finn and his friends try to escape Incarceron.
    The story of Finn alternates with that of Claudia’s who lives on the Outside. Claudia is the daughter of the highest official in her world, the Warden of Incarecron. She is resisting an arranged marriage that will elevate her to Queen. Fisher skillfully entwines the two stories when Finn and Claudia both discover a crystal key that allows them to communicate between their worlds. How Claudia helps Finn and his friends escape from Incarecron makes an entrancing fantasy. Readers will be glued to each of the 442 pages as the author keeps the tension and the excitement high. This book has a strong connection to Half Bad.
    I am eager to hear what books you suggest, Holly.
    Wow, Marilyn! Well, my additions would also include Maggie Stiefvater, and while I love The Scorpio Races (2010), her Raven Boys trilogy has got me hooked and addresses secrets, magic, and identity. For me, these three books align so well with Half Bad and Mortal Fire, but could also connect with Being Henry David. For instance, Hank (Being Henry David) seems to be a typical young man, but what is happening is atypical. The young men from Aglionby, the school the boys attend, seem typical, but nothing about their search for the energy source called the ley line that will lead them to a legendary king, who will reward them for their efforts. Canny, in Mortal Fire, is also tied to the legendary magic of Zarene family. Nathan, from Half Bad, is in search of his legendary father and what might result from his claiming of his father’s magic. There is Blue, another strong character in The Raven Boys, and she has a psychic ability, and thus she and Canny would make an interesting pairing.
    I also liked the Divergent series (Roth) and can see how that could be used with Half Bad. The societies that Tris and Nathan live in are full of particular gifts or magic, but when someone is “half” anything or perhaps able to be more than one thing, the society reacts in the negative. Rather than seeing some as “more than,” and thus able to be of service in multiple ways, they are seen as, well, “divergent,” and must be destroyed. Very strange idea; something about these two books resonate with our youth and can cause us to think about our societies in more critical ways. Even the characters Billy Dean and Canny (from Mortal Fire) could be perceived as “divergent.”
    Moving away from fantasy for my next suggestion, I would love to see how young people might connect Half Bad with Graffiti Knight (Bass, 2014). Graffiti Knight presents the character Wilm, 16 years old and living in Eastern Germany before the wall fell. Wilm places political graffiti on the walls of government buildings that accuse the German police of conspiring with the Soviet government against their own people. He places himself and others in danger, but he cannot live in the society in which he finds himself. Nathan, from Half Bad, is also pitted against his society and while he had hoped to be left alone, he wasn’t, and that creates a dangerous situation for himself and others.
    I am also just finishing The Fallen (Higson, 2014) from The Enemy series, which is about a virus that attacked only those 16 years and older, and they become flesh-eating zombies (think The Walking Dead). Thus, young people are pitted against the grown-ups and each day is a battle. I can see connections with Half Bad and Mortal Fire with this book as the young must constantly think of ways to stay alive and connected while the world seems to run amuck. I find myself thinking the word, “hunted” with these three novels, but then I can also connect to Being Henry David as Hank also felt hunted. Perhaps even Billy Dean felt hunted, but for other reasons. He was in danger from his father, which also ties with The Fallen, which had characters hunted by their parents/adults.
    Finally, I would probably add Nine Open Arms (Lindelauf, 2014) to my list. This book, on first glance, would be a questionable addition, but there are secrets in this family and mysterious connections and disconnections. I could see it pairing well with Billy Dean or with Mortal Fire. The connections to family and secrets are strong ones in all of these books. Of course, Hank in Being Henry David, also has his secrets, so that, too could be a connection, but it is really about family secrets that I would want to emphasize here.
    These were great books, Marilyn! There are so many ways to bring them together and to tie them to other texts for adolescents. The worlds that opened up and how they connected was pretty amazing given that they seemed so different when we first selected them! Any last words before we wrap this up?
    This has been a stimulating process. Thank you, Holly. My wish is that students would be able to engage in such a process. I have more insights about the books we read and a deeper understanding about the themes they explored.
    I just read my grandson’s book report. On the phone he was bubbling over with enthusiasm for his book. However, his book report was dull. His teacher had these questions on the book report sheet. “Describe the main characters. What was their problem? How did the problem get resolved?” The report our grandson did matched the questions exactly no more than asked for. All that excitement he talked to be about was gone, so were his insights. How can we capture that excitement in our classroom assignments about books? Why not use social media between students to foster conversations about books?

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