Mina loves the night. While everyone else is in a deep slumber, she gazes out the window. In the stillness, she can even hear her own heart beating. This is when Mina feels that anything is possible and her imagination is set free.
A blank notebook lies on the table. It has been there for what seems like forever. Mina has proclaimed in the past that she will use it as a journal, and one night, at last, she begins to do just that. As she writes, Mina makes discoveries both trivial and profound about herself and her world, her thoughts and her dreams.
About David Almond
“Writing can be difficult, but sometimes it really does feel like a kind of magic. I think that stories are living things—among the most important things in the world.”—David Almond
David Almond is the winner of the 2001 Michael L. Printz Award for Kit’s Wilderness, which has also been named best book of the year by School Library Journal, Booklist, and Publishers Weekly. His first book for young readers, Skellig, is a Printz Honor winner.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Miraculous beings living in a miraculous world . . .
Maybe it comes from my religious upbringing (I grew up in a big Catholic family): I do feel that we are miraculous beings living in a miraculous world. Sometimes the explanations we’re given—and the possibilities we’re offered—are just too restricted and mechanistic. Stories offer us a place to explore (as writers and readers) what it is to be fully human. I do think that young people are interested in the major questions—Who are we? Where do we come from? Where are we going? Is there a God?—and they’re willing to contemplate all kinds of possibilities. They haven’t yet become tired by such questions.
Brutality has to be allowed its place . . .
Ten minutes of TV news is enough to convince anybody that the world is a pretty brutal place. We aren’t yet perfect people living in a perfect world—and we never will be—so brutality has to be allowed its place. But the world also contains great tenderness, joy, hope, etc. I suppose that in my books I explore a world and people that are made up of opposites: good and evil, light and darkness, the beautiful and the ugly. And I hope that in the end, goodness, light, and beauty will have some kind of upper hand.
Stories as a whole form a kind of community . . .
The stories in Counting Stars don’t have a straightforward chronological progression, but there are many links between the different stories. They form a kind of mosaic. Themes hinted at in one story are developed in another. Characters are seen in different situations/settings. I like to think that the stories as a whole form a kind of community or family. It’s often said that there’s a big difference between writing short stories and novels, but I’m not so sure. I think of my novels as a series of scenes/chapters, each of which I write with the same kind of attention I’d give to a short story.
A readership of four . . .
When I began to write Counting Stars, I wanted to write about my sisters and brother, and to use their real names, so I needed their permission. I worried that they wouldn’t be happy about the book. So I invited them all to my house for dinner, and afterwards I told them my plans, and I nervously read one of the first stories, “The Fusilier.” If they had said no to using their real names, Counting Stars would have been a very different book—and maybe wouldn’t have been written at all. But they said yes! Over the next couple of years, after I’d written each story, I sent copies to my brother and three sisters, so that they could see how things were developing. So, in a sense, the book was written for a readership of four people.
Staring out of the window . . .
I write at home, in a little office overlooking the back garden. I scribble in an artist’s sketchbook and type onto an AppleMac computer. I work all day—though some of that time will involve staring out of the window and eating apples. But I also travel quite a lot, so I’m used to writing on trains, in hotels, etc.
I used to wonder if I'd ever be able to write a novel properly . . .
For many years, I wrote nothing but short stories, and I used to wonder if I’d ever be able to write a novel properly. I wrote the stories in Counting Stars before I wrote Skellig, my first children’s novel. I wrote them over a two-year period. As I wrote them, I found myself exploring childhood experience from a child’s point of view. I rediscovered the powerful imaginative and emotional nature of childhood. Really, writing these stories changed me into a writer for children/young adults.
Messing about with paper clips . . .
I always wanted to be a writer. I wrote little books and stories as a boy, and wanted to see my books on the shelves of our little local library right next to my favorite books: King Arthur and His Knights of the Round Table, The Day of the Triffids, and The Adventures of Turkey. But as for writing, I simply like it all—right from creating new stories to messing about with paper clips. The best piece of writing advice I’ve ever received: Don't give up.
It’s often children who read the books with the most insight . . .
I think that children can be much more perceptive, creative, and intelligent than we give them credit for. I see this in the many letters I get from my readers and in the things that they say when I meet them. Some adults assume that children will never “get” the more complex aspects of my books, but in fact it’s often children who read the books with the most insight.
—A Michael L. Printz Honor Book
—An ALA Notable Book
—A New York Times Best Book
“A lovingly done, thought-provoking novel.”—Starred, School Library Journal
“An amazing work. Some of the writing takes one’s breath away.”—Starred, Booklist
“Almond makes a triumphant debut in the field of children’s literature with prose that is at once eerie, magical, and poignant.”—Starred, Publishers Weekly
—A Michael L. Printz Award Winner
—An ALA Notable Book
—A Publishers Weekly Best Book
“A highly satisfying literary experience.”—Starred, School Library Journal
“Almond has set an enormous task for himself . . . but he succeeds beautifully.”—Starred, Booklist
“An awe-inspiring, multilayered novel from a master imagist.”—School Library Journal, Starred
Starred Review, Publishers Weekly, August 15, 2011:From the Hardcover edition.
"Almond gives readers a vivid picture of the joyfully free-form workings of Mina’s mind and her mixed emotions about being an isolated child. Her gradual emergence from the protective shell of home is beautifully portrayed as she gingerly ventures out into the world. Not as dark, but just as passionate as Almond’s previous works, this novel will inspire children to let their imaginations soar."
Starred Review, Booklist, September 15, 2011:
Almond is rather brave to have written a prequel to Skellig (1998), a book that was the essence of originality. So many things could have gone wrong. But he is too shrewd—and fine—a writer to let that happen. This is the story of Mina, the girl next door who, in Skellig, helped Michael cope with the man he found in his garage eating dead flies and growing wings. Who was Mina before Michael arrived? Form as well as language bring Mina alive. Her journal introduces us to this authoritative, imaginative, irascible child, and her entries appear in her childlike penmanship; the print is big and bold when she finds a word she loves (“METEMPSYCHOSIS!”), and she uses concrete poetry as she plays with language and thoughts. And what thoughts! Mina is homeschooled, because, well, because she’s Mina, and she needs expanses of time to think about myths and mathematics. She dreams of her dead father and wonders, wonders, wonders about birds. It is the birds that will lead readers into Skellig—that, and glimpses of Michael and his family moving next door. This book stands very much alone, but the sense of wonder that pervades the smallest details of everyday life remains familiar.
— Ilene Cooper
The New York Times Book Review, October 16, 2011:
“Mina is a perceptive, fiercely curious, and defiant but sensitive girl who will surely prove a heroine for many.”
WINNER 2011 Booklist Children's Editors' Choice
NOMINEE Bank Street Child Study Children's Book Award
WINNER Young Adult Services Division, School Library Journal Author Award