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Written by David AlmondAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by David Almond

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List Price: $7.99

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On Sale: November 10, 2009
Pages: 240 | ISBN: 978-0-375-89385-8
Published by : Delacorte Books for Young Readers RH Childrens Books
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Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

A captivating new novel from Printz Award winner David Almond.

Liam and his friend Max are playing in their neighborhood when the call of a bird leads them out into a field beyond their town. There, they find a baby lying alone atop a pile of stones—with a note pinned to her clothing. Mystified, Liam brings the baby home to his parents. They agree to take her in, but police searches turn up no sign of the baby’s parents. Finally they must surrender the baby to a foster family, who name her Allison. Visiting her in Northumberland, Liam meets Oliver, a foster son from Liberia who claims to be a refugee from the war there, and Crystal, a foster daughter. When Liam’s parents decide to adopt Allison, Crystal and Oliver are invited to her christening. There, Oliver tells Liam about how he will be slaughtered if he is sent back to Liberia. The next time Liam sees Crystal, it is when she and Oliver have run away from their foster homes, desperate to keep Oliver from being sent back to Liberia. In a cave where the two are hiding, Liam learns the truth behind Oliver’s dark past—and is forced to ponder what all children are capable of.

Excerpt

1



It starts and ends with the knife. I find it in the garden. I'm with Max Woods. We're messing about, digging for treasure, like we did when we were little kids. As always there's nothing but stones and roots and dust and worms. Then there it is, just below the surface, a knife with a wooden handle in a leather sheath. I lever it out of the earth. The curved blade's all tarnished, the handle's filthy, the sheath's blackened and stiff and starting to rot away.

I laugh in triumph.

"Treasure at last!"

"Huh!" says Max. "It's just an old pruning knife."

"Course it's not! It's from the ancient Romans or the reivers. It's a weapon of war!"

I hold it up towards the sun.

"I name thee . . . Death Dealer!" I say.

Max mutters under his breath and rolls his eyes. I stab the knife into the earth to clean. I wipe it on the grass. I spit on it and rub it. I pick up a stone and try to sharpen it.

Then a bird flutters onto the grass six feet away.

"Hello, crow," I say.

"It's a raven, townie," says Max. He imitates its call. "Jak jak! Jak! Jak jak!"

The raven bounces, croaks back at him.
Jak jak! Jak jak!

"It's after the worms," says Max.

"No. It's seen something shiny! It's seen Roman gold! There, look!"

I dig like a maniac for a few daft moments. I stab the earth, plunge the knife deeper. Then my hand slips and blood's pouring out from my wrist. I scream, then laugh at myself and press my finger to the little wound.

Max mutters again.

"Sometimes I think you're crackers," he says.

"Me too," I say.

We lie in the grass and stare at the sky. It's early summer, hardly more than spring, but the sun's been pouring down for weeks. The ground's baked hard, the grass is already getting scorched. It'll be the hottest summer ever, and the story is they'll keep on getting hotter. The dust and soil's like a crust on my hands and arms. It mingles on my wrist with the dark red of drying blood, just like a painting or a map.

A low-flying jet thunders over us, then another, then _another.

"Begone, you beasts!" I call.

I flourish the knife at them as they streak away southwards over Hadrian's Wall, over the chapel of St. Michael and All Angels and out of sight.

Then my wound's bleeding again. I'll need a plaster. We get up and head for the house.

"It's all yours, Jack," I say.

I expect the bird to hop into the hole, but it doesn't. It flies over us and lands again six feet in front of us, looks at us, then flies a bit further on, lands, and looks at us again.

"You can tame them, you know," says Max.

"Aye?"

"Aye. We had one when I was a squirt. It was great-lived on the back path, begged for food at the door, perched on your wrist. Jak jak! Funnily enough, we called it Jack."

"What happened to it?"

"Joe Bolton shot it." He holds the air like he's holding a gun. "Kapow! He said it was trying to nest in his chimney. But I think he just wanted to kill something. Kapow!"

He waves his arms and runs at it and it flaps up into the sky.

"Go on! Get lost! Shoo!"

Inside the house, I find the plasters. I rub some of the dirt off the wound with a bit of kitchen towel, blot the trickling blood, then stick the plaster on. I clean more dirt off the knife blade. I wash it with soap. I sharpen it on the knife sharpener on the kitchen wall. I spray furniture polish on the handle and wipe it. I spray the sheath as well, and I bend it and run it between my fingers and straightaway it starts softening. I smile.

"Very nice," I say.

I loop my belt through the sheath and the knife sits there at my hip.

"What d'you think?" I say.

"I think you'll get arrested," he says. "It's against the law."

I laugh.

"A pruning knife? Against the law?"

I tug my T-shirt over it, hiding it.

"OK now?" I say.

I get some bread and cheese and lemonade and we sit on the bench at the back door. The raven's on the gatepost now.

Jak jak! Jak jak!

It stabs its beak towards us. It flutters its wings, it bounces and bobs.

"What do you want?" I laugh.

Jak jak! Jak jak!

A printer whirrs upstairs. Dad, hard at work as usual. We look up, towards his open window.

"What's he writing now?" says Max.

"Dunno. He tells nobody nothing till it's finished."

We chew and listen.

"Weird," says Max.

I swig the lemonade, swipe my wrist across my lips.

"Aye. Sometimes it's like having a ghost in the house. Come on. Let's head out, eh?"

So we leave the garden.



2



We get onto the footpath that skirts the house, then head along the long potholed lane towards the village. There's a single hiker in a red cap moving ahead of us. There's kids on the field beside the village school. Somebody's screaming, like they're getting lumps kicked out of them. Then there's a cheer and a howl of laughter, and a bunch of them break away and belt uphill towards Great Elm.

"Want to join in?" I say.

"Mebbe," says Max.

Gordon Nattrass appears at the edge of the field. He watches us from the fence, then he jumps over it and comes towards us. He's carrying a rusty saw in his hand.

"Hello, brothers," he says.

Brothers. It's what he always says.
"What you up to, brothers? Where you off to, brothers?"

"Nowt," says Max.

"Nowhere," I say.

"What you up to?" I say.

He grins.

"Fun and games," he says. "Come on over, eh?"

Another jet screams over us and streaks away towards the east.
"Bomb them back to the Stone Age!" yells Nattrass, then he spits. "Come on," he says.

I'm about to go with him, but Max holds back.
"Mebbe later," he says.

I look at Max. I look at Nattrass. Nattrass and I were friends when we were small. We did the blood brothers thing one day, cutting our thumbs, then pressing the wounds together and letting our blood flow into each other. I touch the knife at my hip as I remember it. But it was ages back. After that he started changing, started becoming the Nattrass we know today.
He winks at me.

"OK, brother," he says. "Later, then. I'll look out for you."

He rests the saw blade at the side of his neck, then drags it back like he's going to saw his head off. He laughs, runs back to the field, and soon there's more screaming.

"I hate that bastard," says Max.

"Me too," I say.


From the Hardcover edition.
David Almond

About David Almond

David Almond - Raven Summer

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

Starred Review, Booklist, September 15, 2009:
"The kindness in every chapter is heartbreaking too. A haunting story, perfect for group discussion."

Starred Review, Publishers Weekly, November 9, 2009: “Almond tackles complex questions about humanity
 from multiple points of view; flashes of wisdom—sometimes painful, sometimes uplifting—arrive at unexpected moments”

Starred Review, Kirkus Reviews, October 15, 2009: “[A] hypnotic, sensuous foray into the nature of war, truth, art and the savagery of humanity.”


From the Hardcover edition.

Awards

NOMINEE ALA Best Books for Young Adults
Teachers Guide

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