Cover image for Counting stars
Counting stars
Almond, David, 1951-
Personal Author:
First American edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Delacorte Press, 2002. c2000.
Physical Description:
205 pages ; 22 cm
In a series of interconnected stories, a boy describes his life growing up in the English urban district of Felling.
Reading Level:
630 Lexile.
Program Information:
Accelerated Reader AR UG 4.5 6.0 59206.

Reading Counts RC 6-8 5.2 11 Quiz: 29844 Guided reading level: U.

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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 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. From the Hardcover edition.

Author Notes

David Almond was born on May 15, 1951 in the United Kingdom. He writes novels for children and young adults including The Savage, Slog's Dad, My Name Is Mina, The Boy Who Swam with Piranhas, and The Tightrope Walkers. He has received numerous awards including the Carnegie Medal for Skellig, two Whitbread Awards, the Michael L. Printz Award for young-adult books for Kit's Wilderness, the Smarties Prize and the Boston Globe Horn Book Award for The Fire-Eaters, the 2015 Guardian Children's Fiction Prize for A Song for Ella Grey, and the Hans Christian Andersen Award.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Gr. 9-12. Like Almond's award-winning novels, these connected stories, based on personal experience, are about the miraculous in daily life, the unknown in the familiar. Almond writes with lyrical simplicity about growing up in a working-class family in a small mining town in the north of England. Catholic faith is central to childhood vision, and tentative questioning of Catholicism is as much a part of coming-of-age as is awakening sexuality. Almond comes close to the sentimental, especially in the idyllic picture of the loving family he's created, but he writes powerfully of ordinary life and of the dark outside: bullies on the street and in the house next door, cruelty in the name of faith, sorrow when the father and baby sister die. As with his other books, some of Almond's best writing combines the fragile and the grotesque, especially in the exquisite stories about the coming of the circus and the carnival. There's a strong sense of the adult looking back (many of the chapters were previously published in British literary magazines), so the audience here will be mainly readers who know Almond's work and are exploring their own stories of innocence and experience. --Hazel Rochman

Publisher's Weekly Review

In this evocative collection of autobiographical vignettes, Almond's writing exudes the same haunting mood that characterizes his novels (Skellig; Kit's Wilderness; Heaven Eyes). Here, readers can trace connecting threads between his published works and his childhood experiences as a sensitive, pensive English child preoccupied by the mysteries of religion, death and immortality. Rather than moving linearly, stories, set in the author's predominantly Catholic neighborhood, provide a spinning carousel of surreal images connecting different eras and piecing together fragments of memories. Town outcasts seem to change form as Almond reveals their poignant histories. Family members who die untimely deaths make surprising reappearances ("The week after our sister Barbara died she was seen walking hand in hand with Mam on this road toward the field... [They] walked with a fluency which neither had in their lives, for Barbara had been an invalid child and Mam was already badly damaged by arthritis"). Mam re-emerges in one tale as a vibrant young dancer when her son gazes at an old photograph taken during her girlhood. In another, three deceased family members each define the word "death." At the heart of every selection, readers will feel the presence of the budding young writer gracefully, yet often sadly, riding waves of change while trying to make sense out of the world around him. The montage of scenes "merge[s] memory and dream, the real and the imagined, truth and lies," and expresses pearls of wisdom that will remain fixed in readers' imaginations. Ages 10-up. (Apr.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

School Library Journal Review

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 (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



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 toward the 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." "Where?" "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. From the Hardcover edition. Excerpted from Counting Stars by David Almond All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.