Monster on the Hill

Monster on the HillMonster on the Hill
Written and illustrated by: Rob Harrell
Publisher: IDW Publishing/Top Shelf Productions
Format: Softcover, 7.25 x 9, 192 pages, Full Color, $19.95
ISBN: 978-1-60309-075-9


My mother always told me that if I didn’t have anything nice to say I shouldn't say anything at all. What happens, however, if you must ask yourself the opposite?

"What if I only have the best-of things to say?"

Having written this column for three years now this is the first time that question has popped into my mind and dominated my thinking. My prewriting has been haunted by thoughts like, I don't necessarily want to explode and ooze with so much enthusiasm that I sound ridiculous. If I jump up and down and wave my hands all around and tell people they need to go read this graphic novel right now, "It will change your life!," I might scare someone or be maced. This graphic novel isn't going to lead you down any spiritual road of enlightenment and solve the world’s problems; although, now that I think about it, it may fall under the spectrum of modeling current political unrest as a global community of neighbors instead of an isolationist bother we should just let play itself out no matter the cost of human suffering or expense. I'm getting ahead of myself, way ahead . . .  See, that's what I mean . . .

I can't say enough to recommend that you read Monster on the Hill. Set in a Dickensonian-in tone and mood England and yet surreal and fable surreal-like world that takes place during a fictionalized 1867 England, Monster on the Hill tells you a story you have never heard before. In this world of social unrest and economic uncertainty one English town in particular is suffering. Why do they suffer? Stoker-on-Avon's monster is a dud. To be a glorious and tourist-friendly ("Show me the money!") town in this story you must have a very scary monster that makes unexpected and devastatingly destructive appearances. After all, every other town has a destructive, famous monster.  

Think Pokémon, and Pokémon trading crades, and you'll understand the type of fame these monsters enjoy. Their battlefield, however, not a preconstructed Pokémon stadium at all, but a savage romp and trail of destruction through their literal, local town. Take Tentacular from Billingwood England, for example. He's smashing into buildings and chasing anyone within sight. Billingwood's citizens couldn't be more proud! Tourism is up and the money is pouring into town as a result.

Back to Stoker-on-Avon though they don't hear any romping and ravaging. They mostly hear pathetic moans and small groans that seem more lethargic than anything else. Their monster, Rayburn, is absolutely NOT a Tentacular! As a result, the city is struggling financially, so much so that the town fathers are willing to hire a somewhat crazed-but-loveable and absent-minded scientist (Whose license they themselves have even revoked!) to fix their monster. Dr. Wilkie really wants his license back. He would also really like to have his laboratory and experiments back as well, for they have been locked up due to his way too curious and sometimes explosive hypotheses.  In some ways, he's been the town's most pestersome presence instead of their very own monster. "What is wrong with Rayburn, anyways?"

Agreeing to the deal offered to regain his license and his laboratory by the town fathers Dr. Wilkie is pretty much at a loss as to what to do. His usual mindset the reader soon figures out. Thank goodness the local town crier, a young street urchin boy named Timothy has stowed away in the Dr.'s trunk of supplies. He's much more realistic and practical. Perhaps the two of them can figure out how to help Rayburn become a real monster.

That is, after Rayburn reluctantly invites them into his lair for what he thinks he can muster up enough courage to make. Tea, of course! Their MONSTER! has invited them into his cozy and studious lair for some tea, of all things, if he can muster up enough energy to make it.

English Language Arts Elements of Story

Plots: Stoker-on-Avon's monster is depressed, and it's costing them in more than one way. They need to fix their monster and their money problem. But how? Desperate, the town fathers are at their wits' ends.  

Characters: Tourists from Stoker-on-Avon, citizens of Billingwood, England, Tentacular, the town fathers of Stoker-on-Avon, Dr. Wilkie, Timothy, Rayburn, The Murk

Settings: 1867 Billingwood, England, Stoker-on-Avon, England, Tentacular's lair, Rayburn's lair

Themes: Economics, Culture, Tourism, Friendship, Legend and Lore, Training/Schooling, Image versus Reality

Some Reading Recommendations Using the Common Core Standards For Young Adult Readers

Key Ideas and Details*
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RL.3 Analyze how complex characters (e.g., those with multiple or conflicting motivations) develop over the course of a text, interact with other characters, and advance the plot or develop the theme.

* The number referenced above corresponds to the number used by the Common Core Standards (www.commoncore.org)

Lesson Idea for Young Adult Readers:

Directions: Use the following graphic organizer setting-based map to trace two or more characters as they travel and develop throughout the story.  

1. Choose two characters from this list: the town fathers, Dr. Wilkie, Timothy, Rayburn, Tentacular, The Murk, citizens of Stoker-on-Avon.
2. Follow them throughout the story, from setting to setting, and pay particular attention to what they think or say (develop) over the course of the story.
3. Hint: It may be helpful, depending on which characters you chose, to read the story first and then fill-out the graphic organizer map.

Setting #1: Billingwood, England

Two Characters:


What happens to my two characters at this setting in the graphic novel? What do they think or say?




Setting #2: Stoker-on-Avon, England

Two Characters:


What happens to my two characters at this setting in the graphic novel? What do they think or say?



Setting #3: Rayburn's Lair

Two Characters:


What happens to my two characters at this setting in the graphic novel? What do they think or say?



Setting #4: Tentacular's Lair (just outside of Billingwood, England)

Two Characters:


What happens to my two characters at this setting in the graphic novel? What do they think or say?



Setting #5: (you choose between 1. Path of Dr. Wilkie, Timothy, and Rayburn, or 2. Tentacular's visit to Stoker-on-Avon)

Two Characters:


What happens to my two characters at this setting in the graphic novel? What do they think or say?



Dr. Katie Monnin is an Associate Professor of Literacy at the University of North Florida.  Besides the joy that comes with reading comic books and graphic novels, Dr. Monnin enjoys a Peter Pan-ish life of researching and writing her own books about teaching comics, graphic novels, and cartoons: Teaching Graphic Novels (2010), Teaching Early Reader Comics and Graphic Novels (2011), Using Content-Area Graphic Texts for Learning (2012), Teaching Reading Comprehension with Graphic Texts (2013), and Get Animated! Teaching 21st Century Early Reader and Young Adult Cartoons in Language Arts (2013); Teaching New Literacies in Elementary Language Arts ( in press, 2014).  When she is not writing (or sitting around wondering how she ended up making an awesome career out of studying comics and graphic novels), Dr. Monnin spends her time with her two wiener dogs, Sam and Max.