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Counting Stars

Counting Stars

5.0 2
by David Almond

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David Almond’s extraordinary novels have established him as an author of unique insight and skill. These stories encapsulate his endless sense of mystery and wonderment, as they weave a tangible tapestry of growing up in a large, loving family. Here are the kernels of his novels—joy and fear, darkness and light, the
healing power of love and


David Almond’s extraordinary novels have established him as an author of unique insight and skill. These stories encapsulate his endless sense of mystery and wonderment, as they weave a tangible tapestry of growing up in a large, loving family. Here are the kernels of his novels—joy and fear, darkness and light, the
healing power of love and imagination in overcoming the wounds of ignorance and prejudice. These stories merge memory and dream, the real and the imagined, in a collection of exquisite tenderness.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
"In this evocative collection of autobiographical vignettes," wrote PW in a starred review, "readers can trace connecting threads between Almond's published works and his childhood experience as a sensitive, pensive English child preoccupied by the mysteries of religion, death and immortality." Ages 12-up. (Oct.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
This collection of stories is drawn from Almond's youth growing up in a large Roman Catholic family. Although based in reality, these family stories are "truth and memories and dreams and bits made up," as his long-dead father declares in one story. Recurring themes include love, death, religious doubt, and remembrance of lost family. Readers of Almond's work will find that these stories echo his novels. The dying baby in Skellig (Delacorte Press, 1999) recalls the loss of Almond's young sister. His yearning for his dead father is reflected in the orphans of Heaven Eyes (Delacorte Press, 2001/VOYA April 2001), and his hometown is reminiscent of that in Kit's Wilderness (Delacorte Press, 2000/VOYA April 2000). These eighteen short stories are beautifully written. They are interrelated, providing a snapshot of Almond's family in a small English town. They are emotionally powerful, particularly My Mother's Photographs, which offers a look back at Almond's mother in her younger days, before her crippling disability and death. The stories do not occur in order, but instead leap about in time in a seemingly random fashion. The lack of chronology might prove challenging for readers who prefer a straightforward narrative. For those who can view the stories as a nonlinear patchwork, the structure simply adds to the magical tone that is characteristic of his work. The language is beautiful and poetic, yet still accessible for young adults. This memorable book is highly recommended for both teens and adults. 2002, Delacorte, 210p,
— Sherrie Williams
This collection of stories about a young boy and his family in the Northeastern part of England begins with the author saying that all the stories are about him, and so, while the stories are fiction, the reader can feel the truth of them. The members of the narrator's family, living and dead, his neighbors, friends, priests and nuns all play important parts in his childhood. The stories flicker back and forth in time and perhaps the best story in the collection, "The Kitchen," captures the author's idea of time and memory. In that story, all the living characters, his dead sister Barbara, who, although she died in infancy, always remains an important member of the family and his father who died young gather in the family kitchen to eat toast and butter. They talk to each other about life before and after death and what heaven is, reaching deep into the memories of any thoughtful reader. While some stories are sentimental, Almond also tackles the tawdriness and meanness of events of his youth, giving a complete picture of a young boy's childhood and family. The combination of the stories is greater than any one story and while some can stand alone, they are best read as parts of a whole. KLIATT Codes: JS-Recommended for junior and senior high school students. 2000, Random House, 205p., Ages 12 to 18.
— Nola Theiss
School Library Journal
Gr 5-9-Eighteen nostalgic vignettes form the patchwork of this memory quilt, Almond's wistful recollection of the people and places he knew during his childhood in a poor mining town in the north of England nearly 50 years ago. Like memory itself, the stories weave in and out of time and place, and while they appear disjointed at first, they quickly and subtly reveal patterns and themes that mold the boy into a man: the abiding love of parents and siblings, even beyond their deaths; first cigarette, first fight, first love; and the ubiquitous, disapproving eye of the Catholic Church and the teenage temptation to spit in it. Lilting dialect and homespun humor imbue Almond's narrative with a beauty and simplicity that transcend the poverty and squalor of the diverse settings, which range from graveyards to fun fairs, schoolrooms to empty lots. The chronological and cultural gap that separates Almond's youth from that of modern children is so palpable in these stories that many readers will feel overwhelmed and perhaps even discouraged. Tenacious ones, however, will be rewarded with a captivating portrait of Almond the child, whose life experiences helped produce Almond the writer and his eloquent body of literature.-William McLoughlin, Brookside School, Worthington, OH Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
In 18 short stories, none previously published here, the author of Heaven Eyes (2001) surveys a child's world in which love and pain intertwine. The tales are partly autobiographical-or, as he puts it: "They merge memory and dream, the real and the imagined, truth and lies." After discovering "The Middle of the World" within the circle of his loving family, the young narrator steps out to encounter both abused children ("Loosa Fine"), and damaged elders like Miss Golightly, whose whole history is encompassed by a fetus in a jar and old photos of a uniformed beau. He enjoys concurrent flings with a beautiful visitor and faddish mysticism; travels in a carnival "Time Machine," discovers supposedly imaginary "Jonadab" on a map, and reports visions of his buried sister among flocks of angels. Almond writes with haunting spareness of these experiences, and also of his father's death, and his mother's increasing infirmity-leaving readers to figure out for themselves why people laugh or weep at certain moments, to think about the complex connections between the living and the dead, and to wrestle with troubling questions of morality or religious faith. Some of his experiences are shocking, some uplifting, obliquely amusing, even magical; this is not light or easy reading, but few who tackle it will come away unmoved. (Short stories. YA)

Product Details

Hachette Children's
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Hachette Digital, Inc.
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Age Range:
12 - 18 Years

Read an Excerpt

The Middle of the World

She started with The Universe. Then she wrote The Galaxy, The Solar System, The Earth, Europe, England, Felling, Our House, The Kitchen, The White Chair With A Hundred Holes Like Stars, then her name, Margaret, and she paused.

"What's in the middle of me?" she asked.

"Your heart," said Mary.

She wrote My Heart.

"In the middle of that?"

"Your soul," said Catherine.

She wrote My Soul.

Mam reached down and lifted the front of Margaret's T-shirt and prodded her navel.

"That's where your middle is," she said. "That's where you were part of me."

Margaret drew a row of stick figures, then drew concentric rings growing out from each of them.

"Where's the real middle of the world?" she said.

"They used to think the Mediterranean," said Catherine. "Medi means middle. Terra means world. The sea at the middle of the world."

Margaret drew a blue sea with a green earth around it.

"There was another sea at the edges," said Catherine. "It was filled with monsters and it went right to the end of the world. If you got that far, you just fell off."

Margaret drew this sea. She put fangs and fins for monsters.

"There's no end, really, is there?" she said.

"No," said Catherine.

"And there's no middle, is there?"

Catherine laughed.

"Not really."

Mam prodded Margaret's navel again.

"That's the middle of the world," she said.

Later that day we went to the grave. Colin rushed home from Reyrolle's on his Vespa for lunch. He bolted his food and rattled away again. We heard the scooter taking him on to Felling Bank and down towardthe square.

When it faded, Mary said,

"Should we go to the grave today?"

We hadn't been for months. We thought of the dead being in Heaven rather than being in the earth.

"Good idea," said Mam. "I'll make some bara brith for when you get home."

We were on the rocky path at the foot of the street when Dandy ran after us. He was a little black poodle that was never clipped and had horrible breath.

"Go home!" said Mary. "Dandy, go home!"

He yapped and growled and whined.

"Dandy, go home!"

No good. We just had to let him trot along beside us.

Margaret fiddled with her navel as she walked.

"When I started," she said, "what was I like?"

"What do you think you were like?" said Mary. "Like a gorilla? You were very very very little. You were that little, you couldn't even be seen. You were that little, nobody even knew you were blinkin there!"

"Daft dog," said Catherine, as Dandy ran madly through a clump of foxgloves and jumped at bees.

Soon we saw Auntie Jan and Auntie Mona ahead of us. They wore head scarves and carried shopping bags on their arms.

"Bet you can't tell which is which," said Mary.

"Even when they're talking to me I can't tell which is which," said Margaret.

The two aunts hurried into Ell Dene Crescent.

"Did they look the same when nobody knew they were there?" said Margaret.

"Of course they did!" said Mary. "Everybody looks the same when they can't be blinkin seen!"

The aunts waved and grinned and we all waved and Dandy yapped and then they hurried on again down into Ell Dene Crescent.

Mary picked daisies from the verges as we walked.

She said, "Dad once said that daisies were the best of all flowers. I think I remember that."

"You do," said Catherine. "You do remember. He called them day's eyes. Awake in the day and closed asleep at night."

Further on, Daft Peter lay in his greatcoat under a tree on The Drive.

"Not him!" said Catherine. "We'll never get away from him!"

We sat on a bench on Watermill Lane.

"How far is it?" said Margaret.

"You know how far," said Mary.

"Nowhere's far in Felling," said Catherine.

We watched Daft Peter.

"Move," said Catherine. "Go on. Move."

"Is Felling very small?" said Margaret.

Mary stamped her feet.

"Yes," said Catherine.

"Is it the smallest place in the world?"

"Is this Daft Question Day?" said Mary.

"Yes!" said Margaret.

"It's very small," said Catherine. "But there's smaller places."


"Places in the desert," said Mary. "Rings of huts in the jungle. Villages in the Himalayas."

"Yes," said Catherine. "And places like Hebburn or Seaton Sluice."

"Not Seaton Sluice," said Mary. "It's got that big beach. It's got to be bigger than Felling. And Hebburn's got that big new shopping center."

Catherine sighed.

"Windy Nook, then," she said.

"That's not fair," said Mary. "Windy Nook's a part of somewhere else."

"Where, then? And make it somewhere we know."

"Bill Quay," said Mary.

No one said anything, even though we all knew Bill Quay was part of somewhere else as well.

"Thank goodness," said Catherine. "Bill Quay."

Daft Peter didn't move. In the end, we walked on. Dandy snarled as we drew nearer to the man.

"Dandy!" said Catherine.

Daft Peter smiled and rubbed his eyes.

"Here's me thought I was dreamin," he said. "And all the time I'm just wakin up."

He leaned against the tree.

"What would ye say if I knew how to turn swimmin fish into flyin fowl?" he said.

"Take no notice," whispered Catherine.

"Not much at all, I see," said Peter. "But what if I said I could take you girls and show you how to fly aroond this tree."

"I'd say you couldn't!" said Mary.

"Aha!" said Peter. "Just let me look inside this bag, then."

He dug into a brown bag. He took out a sandwich, something bright red and black hanging out of two dried-out slices of bread. He held it out to Mary as we approached.

"Take a bite of that," he said. "Go on, take a bite of that and see."

Dandy jumped up at him, barking and snarling. Daft Peter flailed and kicked and the sandwich flew into the road.

"Daft dog!" he shouted. "Look what ye've done to me dinna!"

We hurried past.

"What would ye say if I turned a daft dog into a nice meat pie?" yelled Peter.

"I'd say it would be very hairy and it would stink!" said Mary.

Meet the Author

David Almond is twice winner of the Whitbread Children's Book Award. His first novel, SKELLIG, won the Whitbread Children's Award and the Carnegie Medal and was made into a feature-length film on Sky1. His second, KIT'S WILDERNESS, won the Smarties Award Silver Medal, was Highly Commended for the Carnegie Medal, and shortlisted for the Guardian Award. THE FIRE-EATERS won the Whitbread, the Smarties Gold Award and was shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal, and CLAY, was shortlisted for the Costa Children's Book Award, and the Carnegie Medal. My Name is Mina, has been shortlisted for the 2012 Carnegie Medal. David has also won the 2010 Hans Christian Andersen Award for his lasting contribution to children's literature and is widely regarded as one of the most exciting and innovative children's authors writing today. His books are bestsellers all over the world. He lives with his family in Northumberland. www.davidalmond.com

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