Monacello The Little Monk and The Wish-Bringer are written by Geraldine McCaughrean, illustrated by Jana Diemberger, and published by Phoenix Yard Books.
These two books tell – but do not conclude – the story of ‘a strange little boy, shaped like a question mark’, and his search for identity and acceptance in his home town, whose people see him as the bringer of luck – the ‘creature’ who can deliver good fortune sometimes, but more often bad.
This is one of those rare stories that adults respond to emotionally but that also captivates children. There are lots of ‘children’s classics’ that can reduce adults to a snivelling heap, but leave children cold – I’m looking very hard at you, The Little Prince, with your Fox and your Rose.
Beautiful and elegant The Little Prince might be, but I think an adult sensibility is required to find his plight moving. In my experience, most children (who are not nostalgic for their childhood, as they haven’t finished with it yet) find it incomprehensible, and taking place over far too many pages.
Monacello, however, is a pacy read. It’s not too long, Geraldine McCaughrean’s words are lyrical but never pretentious, and Jana Diemberger has conjured McCaughrean’s ‘strange little monk, his habit as dark as nightmares’ in such a way that he embodies eerie menace and frightening vulnerability in equal measure.
The first volume was published in 2011, the second in 2012. And the third; the conclusion to the trilogy? Sadly, it has not been published.
As Monacello is based on an Italian folktale, you can of course, google, to get a sense of how the story might end. Or, you could visit your favourite Neopolitan cafe and ask the workers. For a long time I resisted either option, in the hope that the final book might yet appear, and also, because it was interesting to try to create an ending myself. This is a game that you can play alone or with other Monacello fans. I have yet to meet anyone that has discovered these books and failed to be enraptured by them.
But recently, I approached Geraldine McCaughrean through the miracle of directness that is Twitter at its best, and she was kind enough to send me the manuscript of the final part of the trilogy. You can find it here on her website.
And I urge you to. It’s wonderful.
I would love to hear that the third and final part of the story will one day be published. And please, let it be in the same format: a seemingly slight tome, light in the hand and easy to carry, broad enough to make clear every detail of the artwork.
I find the Monacello books a great resource for children who struggle with reading or are reluctant readers as the smaller scale is not intimidating (as many ‘chapter books’ can be), but it is in no way over-simplified or ‘babyish’. The vocabulary can be a stretch – even for the most able reader – but Monacello is so enjoyable to share and to read together, that it’s perfectly possible to help out with the harder words as needed without ruining the flow of the story or the pleasure of discovery.
And now let me be greedy – let Monacello’s story be filmed! And please let that be a simple animation of these wonderful drawings with a voice-over that’s not too actorly. Please let it be read by someone who understands that when you have writing like this* …
He gave them names – Wormy, Fleahouse, Hairdrop – and the cats loved him for it. No-one had given them anything as nice as names before.
Monacello slept under a mountain of cats.
… you have the good fortune to be working with text that rings true to a child, even one that reached adulthood.
* a selection of text chosen by putting both books behind my back picking one, then opening it at random. I couldn’t pick out my favourite piece of writing as I have so many favourite parts and they change all the time, depending on how I’m feeling on each reading. But I do really LOVE these lines.
Find out more about those who brought Monacello to life
Click this link to find out more about the award-winning (and very kind and considerate) author Geraldine McCaughrean
Click this link to find out more about illustrator Jana Diemberger
Click this link to find out more about the publishers Phoenix Yard Books
Bring Monacello into your home
I bought my copies of Monacello The Little Monk and The Wishbringer from Amazon. They are listed as in stock at the time of writing, but should there be a rush on the titles, Abe Books is my favourite place to buy hard-to-get books from.
I’d like to put in a national physical stockist as well, but checking out Foyles and Waterstones reveals that at the time of writing, Foyles don’t have any Monacello books in stock at all, although Waterstones list them online. So grab them online, but next time you’re in-store, why not let them know you would have loved to have seen Monacello on the shelves?