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  • Written by David Almond
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On Sale: November 13, 2001
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ABOUT THE BOOK ABOUT THE BOOK
ABOUT THE AUTHOR ABOUT THE AUTHOR
PRAISE & AWARDS PRAISE & AWARDS
READER'S GUIDE READER'S GUIDE
Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

The Printz Award–winning classic gets a new look.

Written in haunting, lyrical prose, Kit’s Wilderness examines the bonds of family from one generation to the next, and explores how meaning and beauty can be revealed from the depths of darkness.

The Watson family moves to Stoneygate, an old coal-mining town, to care for Kit’s recently widowed grandfather. When Kit meets John Askew, another boy whose family has both worked and died in the mines, Askew invites Kit to join him in playing a game called Death. As Kit’s grandfather tells him stories of the mine’s past and the history of the Watson family, Askew takes Kit into the mines, where the boys look to find the childhood ghosts of their long-gone ancestors.

A Michael L. Printz Award Winner
An ALA Notable Book
A
Publishers Weekly Best Book

Excerpt

1

In Stoneygate there was a wilderness. It was an empty space between the houses and the river, where the ancient pit, the mine, had been. That's where we played Askew's game, the game called Death. We used to gather at the school's gates after the bell had rung. We stood there whispering and giggling. After five minutes, Bobby Carr told us it was time and he led us through the wilderness to Askew's den, a deep hole dug into the earth with old doors slung across it as an entrance and a roof. The place was hidden from the school and from the houses of Stoneygate by the slope and by the tall grasses growing around it. The wild dog Jax waited for us there. When Jax began to growl, Askew drew one of the doors aside. He looked out at us, checked the faces, called us down.

We stumbled one by one down the crumbling steps. We crouched against the walls. The floor was hard-packed clay. Candles burned in niches in the walls. There was a heap of bones in a corner. Askew told us they were human bones, discovered when he'd dug this place. There was a blackened ditch where a fire burned in winter. The den was lined with dried mud. Askew had carved pictures of us all, of animals, of the dogs and cats we owned, of the wild dog Jax, of imagined monsters and demons, of the gates of Heaven and the snapping jaws of Hell. He wrote into the walls the names of all of us who'd died in there. My friend Allie Keenan sat across the den from me. The blankness in her eyes said: You're on your own down here.

Askew wore black jeans, black sneakers, a black T-shirt with "Megadeth" in white across it. He lit a cigarette and passed it round the ring. He passed around a jug of water that he said was special water, collected from a spring that had its source in the blocked-up tunnels of the ancient coal mine far below. He crouched at the center, sharpening his sheath knife on a stone. His dark hair tumbled across his eyes, his pale face flickered in the candlelight.

"You have come into this ancient place to play the game called Death," he whispered.

He laid the knife at the center on a square of glass. He eyed us all. We chewed our lips, held our breath, our hearts thudded. Sometimes a squeak of fear from someone, sometimes a stifled snigger.

"Whose turn is it to die?" he whispered.

He spun the knife.

We chanted, "Death Death Death Death . . ."

And then the knife stopped, pointing at the player.

The player had to reach out, to take Askew's hand. Askew drew him from the fringes to the center.

"There will be a death this day," said Askew.

The player had to kneel before Askew, then crouch on all fours. He had to breathe deeply and slowly, then quickly and more quickly still. He had to lift his head and stare into Askew's eyes. Askew held the knife before his face.

"Do you abandon life?" said Askew.

"I abandon life."

"Do you truly wish to die?"

"I truly wish to die."

Askew held his shoulder. He whispered gently into his ear, then with his thumb and index finger he closed the player's eyes and said, "This is Death."

And the player fell to the floor, dead still, while the rest of us gathered in a ring around him.

"Rest in peace," said Askew.

"Rest in peace," said all of us.

Then Askew slid the door aside and we climbed out into the light. Askew came out last. He slid the door back into place, leaving the dead one in the dark.

We lay together in the long grass, in the sunlight, by the shining river.

Askew crouched apart from us, smoking a cigarette, hunched over, sunk in his gloom.

We waited for the dead one to come back.

Sometimes the dead came quickly back to us. Sometimes it took an age, and on those days our whispering and sniggering came to an end. We glanced nervously at each other, chewed our nails. As time went on, the more nervous ones lifted their schoolbags, glanced fearfully at Askew, set off singly or in pairs toward home. Sometimes we whispered of sliding the door back in order to check on our friend down there, but Askew, without turning to us, would snap,

"No. Death has its own time. Wake him now and all he'll know forever after is a waking death."

So we waited, in silence and dread. In the end, everyone came back. We saw at last the white fingers gripping the door from below. The door slid back. The player scrambled out. He blinked in the light, stared at us. He grinned sheepishly, or stared in amazement, as if emerged from an astounding dream.

Askew didn't move.

"Resurrection, eh?" he murmured. He laughed dryly to himself.

We gathered around the dead one.

"What was it like?" we whispered. "What was it like?"

We left Askew hunched there by the river, strolled back together through the wilderness with the dead one in our midst.
David Almond

About David Almond

David Almond - Kit's Wilderness

Photo © Alex Telfer Photography

“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.


PRAISE


SKELLIG

—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


KIT’S WILDERNESS

—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


HEAVEN EYES

“An awe-inspiring, multilayered novel from a master imagist.”—School Library Journal, Starred
Praise | Awards

Praise

"Almond . . . creates a heartbreakingly real world fused with magical realism . . . suffusing the multilayered plot with an otherworldly glow." — Booklist, Starred

"Almond offers another tantalizing blend of human drama, surrealism and allegory." — Publishers Weekly, Starred

Awards

WINNER 2001 Michael L. Printz Award Winner
WINNER 2001 ALA Best Books for Young Adults
WINNER 2001 ALA Notable Children's Book
WINNER 2001 New York Public Library Books for the Teen Age
WINNER 2001 Maine Student Book Master List
WINNER 2002 Kentucky Bluegrass Master List
WINNER 2001 Printz Awards
Reader's Guide|About the Book|Author Biography|Discussion Questions

About the Book

The questions that follow are intended to guide readers as they begin to analyze the larger emotional, sociological, and literary elements of this extraordinary novel.

About the Guide

The Watson family moves to
Stoneygate, an old coal-mining town, to care for Kit's recently
widowed grandfather. When Kit meets John Askew, another boy whose family has both worked and died in the mines, Askew invites
Kit to join him in a game called Death. As Kit's grandfather tells him stories of the mine's past and the history of the Watson family, Askew takes Kit into the mines, where the boys look for the childhood ghosts of their long-gone ancestors.

About the Author

David Almond's debut novel, Skellig, is one of the most remarkable children's novels published in recent years, and the winner of England's Whitbread Children's Book of the Year, as well as a Michael L. Printz Honor for young adults. In a starred review, Publishers Weekly called Skellig, "a triumphant debut . . . at once eerie, magical, and poignant," and Booklist raved, "Some of the writing takes one's breath away." Skellig was voted a Publishers Weekly, New York Times, and School Library Journal Best Book of 1999. Kit's Wilderness is David Almond's second novel for children.

Discussion Guides

1. When Kit and his friends play the game they call “Death,” they claim they can see the ghosts of children killed in the mine. Are the ghosts that Kit and his friends see real?

2. What do you think makes John Askew, Kit, and Kit’s grandfather able to see ghosts?

3. David Almond calls this book Kit's Wilderness. Why? What is Kit’s “wilderness”?

4. While studying the Ice Age in school, Kit and his classmates are asked to write a story about a young caveman called Lak. How is Kit's own life similar to the story he writes about Lak? How is it different?

5. What is “the pit”? What do you think it represents?

6. The author sets the story in winter. How do the physical landscape and season reflect the characters'’ emotional landscapes and states of mind?

7. Despite his fading memory, Kit’s grandfather is always able to recognize Allie. Why? What might she represent for him? What might she represent in the story?

8. When Kit’s grandfather gives him treasures from the mine–fossils from the ancient past–Kit slips the ammonite into his pocket and tells himself, “I’d keep it with me always now. A treasure from my grandfather. A gift from the deep, dark past.” What other “gifts” does his grandfather bestow upon Kit?

9. John Askew is perceived as a no-good troublemaker by the townspeople. Is he really as bad as everyone thinks he is? In what ways is he darker? In what ways is he lighter?

10. What is the role of storytelling in Kit's Wilderness? How is storytelling used throughout the novel? In what ways?


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