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  • Written by David Almond
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  • Secret Heart
  • Written by David Almond
    Read by Graeme Malcolm
  • Format: Unabridged Audiobook Download | ISBN: 9780807209479
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Written by David AlmondAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by David Almond


List Price: $5.99


On Sale: January 16, 2009
Pages: 224 | ISBN: 978-0-307-54554-1
Published by : Laurel Leaf RH Childrens Books

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Read by Graeme Malcolm
On Sale: October 08, 2002
ISBN: 978-0-8072-0947-9
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Joe Maloney is out of place in this world. His mother wants him to be a man, and he can’t be that yet. His only friend, Stanny Mole, wants to teach him how to kill, and Joe can’t learn that. Joe’s mind is always somewhere else: on the weird creatures he sees in the distant sky, the songs he hears in the air around him, the vibrations of life he feels everywhere. Everybody laughs at Joe Maloney.

And then a tattered circus comes to town, and a tiger comes for him. It leads him out into the night, and nothing in Joe Maloney’s world is ever the same again.

The transformative power of imagination and beauty flows through this story of a boy who walks where others wouldn’t dare to go, a boy with the heart of a tiger, an unlikely hero who knows that sometimes the most important things are the most mysterious.

From the Hardcover edition.



All that night, Joe Maloney sweated, twisted and turned. He dreamed that engines roared and lights blazed. Men yelled, children screamed, dogs yelped. Metal hammered on metal. He dreamed that the surface of the earth was lifted and hung from great hooks in the sky. Beneath it, shapeless beasts danced in the dark. Then he lay dead still. Easy breath, easy heart. He smelt sawdust, canvas, animal sweat, animal dung. Gentle noises, creakings and flappings. He felt something fingering his skull, felt someone whispering his name. He was about to wake up in some new place.

"Joe!" yelled his mum. "Joseph!"

He opened his eyes: just his bedroom, pale sunlight filtering through thin curtains, childhood drawings taped to the walls, his clothes in a heap on the floor. He sniffed the air, trying to smell the tiger again.

"Joe!" she called. "Come on, son, will you?"

He slithered from the tangled bed, picked up his clothes and dressed himself. He dragged on his heavy boots. He sniffed, listened, narrowed his eyes.


In the bathroom, he splashed water onto himself, then leaned close to the mirror, inspected his pale face, his tangled hair, his one green eye, his one brown eye. He touched his skin. He hadn't changed. He was still just Joe Maloney.


He went down into the kitchen. She was at the table, pouring orange juice. She shook her head and clicked her tongue. She tugged his shirt square on his shoulders. She fastened the laces of his boots. "Joe Maloney. What you like?"

He grinned.

"L-like me," he said.

She cuffed him gently on the shoulder.

"Like you. And you're going to need me to get you up and get you dressed all your life?"

He grinned again.


He buttered some toast and chewed it. She smiled, and smoothed his hair with her fingers and palms.

"I had a d-dream," Joe said.

"Now there's a change."

"There was . . ."

She shook her head, but she leaned toward him, about to listen.

"There was . . . ?" she said.

Joe rubbed his eyes and blinked. He looked out of the window and gasped. The summit of a blue tent stood high over the rooftops at the village's edge.

"What's that?"


"L-look, Mum."

He jabbed the air. A blue tent, a blue paler than the morning sky. A great blue tent that trembled slightly in the morning breeze.

"What?" she said.

"There, look, Mum."

She narrowed her eyes and peered.

"Tent," he said. "A tent."

"Oh . . . Aye. Now where might that come from?"

They gazed at it together, the slope of blue rising from the dusty red rooftops.

"Fancy that," she said. "A circus or something, eh? Last time a circus came to Helmouth was in . . ." She shrugged. "Before our time, I reckon."

Joe shoved a piece of toast into his mouth. She put her arm around him as he prepared to go out.

"Now, then, Joseph Maloney," she said.

He lowered his eyes, then turned them to her.

"You know what I'm going to say, don't you?"

"Yes, Mum."

"You make sure you get into school today. OK?"

"OK, Mum."

She kissed him.

"Don't want that rotten Wag Man coming round again, do I?"

"No, Mum."

"You. What a lad. Sometimes wonder what I brought into the world. How can a lad be so lovely and so much trouble? Can you answer me that?"

"No, Mum."

"No, Mum. Come on, then, give us a kiss."

She took him to the door, watched him walk through the garden to the front gate. She raised her finger as he turned to wave. "Be sure, now," she said.

"Yes, Mum," he said, then hurried toward the Cut.

From the Hardcover edition.
David Almond|Author Q&A

About David Almond

David Almond - Secret Heart

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.


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

Author Q&A


Q. You've written that many of your stories come from your childhood, which for many people is a time when certain events seem mysterious and unexplainable. When you look back at these childhood events as an adult, do they still retain their mystery and awe? When you use these memories in your writing, do you return to your childhood perceptions of them?
. I think all events are pretty mysterious. One of a writer’s jobs is to show that what is apparently ordinary and mundane is at the same time extraordinary. We can all think that our lives are mundane, that the places where we live are dull, that the people we know are boring, but once we start to look a little harder, we can see that the world we know is filled with strangeness. As a writer, when I began to re-explore the world of my childhood, and to draw on it for my fiction, it really was like exploring a foreign place. When I write directly about a particular memory, I’m aware that the memory is being reshaped by my desire to write convincing and enchanting fiction. So the childhood perception is the germ of the story, but that perception is extended and transformed. That’s inevitable. I’m not a child anymore. And all memory consists of layers of reality and dreams, truth and lies. All memory is a kind of storytelling, and in the end all stories, if they’re any good, retain a core of mystery, and they resist explanation.

Q. For generations, children dreamt of running away to the circus. But today, the circus doesn’t have the same standing or fantastical draw. Did you want to join the circus when you were a boy? What fantasy escape do you think today’s kids have instead?
A. I didn’t want to escape to a circus, but I did fantasise about exploring wild places–the Himalayas, the desert, the Antarctic. As a kid, I loved the places just beyond the houses: playing fields, heather hills, abandoned coal mines, my grandfather’s allotment. I used to camp out in gardens with my mates. And as a teenager we spent lots of time tramping around the wild and semi-wild places of northern England: Northumbrian beaches and moorland. I think all kids want to go just beyond “civilisation”. They need to know that they can get home again, but they need the experience of wilderness with its darkness and danger. I think it’s a deep human need, so kids will find their wilderness in many surprising places. We think we have controlled and tamed the world, but kids will keep breaking free. And there’s a connection with books and stories here. A book, with its neat lines of print and its well-organised pages, looks civilised, but if it’s any good, a book will have a scent of wildness about it. It will have a wild heart. A good children¹s book is itself like a child who’s been called home by his or her parents from the darkness outside. It sits in a well-lit living room and looks all calm, but its eyes glow, its skin tingles and its heart quickens at the memory of what it’s seen and experienced out there in the wild and dark.

Q. Children, whenever they appear in Secret Heart, are idealized. They have not lost touch with their own imaginations. They are able to genuinely enjoy things. Yet Joe's classmates from Hangar High are already cynical, and the older guys in Cody's Crew are downright mean. When do you think children turn this ugly corner? What do you believe can protect them from this change?

A. We all grow in different ways. As kids, we can be cynical one moment, all innocence the next. The influence of our peers is massive. We all now how strong gang culture can be. And Stanny, for instance, is deeply influenced by Joff. Yes, some of the kids in Secret Heart seem very cynical, but that doesn’t mean they’ll always be so, or that they’ve really lost touch with their imaginations. I know that I could be pretty horrible when I was a kid, and I took part in some easy mockery of other kids. So I don’t think we do really turn a corner that cuts off all other routes. Kids naturally experiment with all kinds of ways of being. In the process, of course, they can get a terrible reputation. I’m an optimist. All of us, adults and children, can change for the better. None of us is lost.

Q. Tell us about Joe's stuttering. What does it tell readers about his character and personality? Are there other messages you hoped his stammering would convey?
I think that Joe’s stuttering obviously shows his social difficulties: apparent shyness, lack of confidence, unsureness. To some in the outside world, it’s a sign of weakness. But it also shows that what is inside him is incredibly difficult to put into words, so it maybe indicates that Joe is much more complex and potentially strong than he’s given credit for. In many ways, he reflects what it’s like to be a writer: you have a notion of what you want to say, but finding the right words can be fiendishly difficult. As a teacher, I worked with a number of children who had similar difficulties to Joe’s, and many of these kids showed great courage and resilience in their dealings with an often hostile world.

Q. You write in a variety of genres. Do you prefer writing short stories, as with this book, or novels? How do you decide what form a particular story will take?
My primary interest is in writing fiction, particularly novels, so these days my subject matter tends to seek a novelistic shape. Stories grow organically, like living things, and I try to give them space and freedom to do that. Writing novels allows me to do that. It hasn’t always been so. For years, I wrote nothing but short stories, but now I find that particular form a bit unsatisfying. Things could change again, of course. I write plays and scripts under commission, so then the decision is made for me. All forms flow into each other, of course. One of the great things about writing for young people is that they don’t have the adult need to classify. So a young child who’s heard, say, “Cinderella” for the first time pretty quickly wants to start acting it out, often with accompanying song and dance. So fiction very naturally becomes drama/musical/dance. For me, all good fiction retains its “primitive” roots in oral storytelling, poetry, music, drama, dance.

Q. Your novels live in reality and fantasy and raise questions about perception.  How thin is the line between the two?
I think my main intention when I write is to create/construct a world that can be seen/heard/smelt/tasted/touched by the reader, so that reading is almost a physical experience. The world of the story has to seem real. Having said that, it often seems that the line between the real and the imagined is hardly there at all. We each have our own vision of the world around us, and it’s coloured by our own memories, upbringing, hopes, dreams, etc., and affected by our mood, physical condition, etc. So what we call “reality” is a myriad of realities. And as soon as we begin to write, the slippery nature of reality only increases. I don’t set out deliberately to do it, but I find that my characters and their stories exist in a very real world (and they’re all located in pretty specific geographical locations), but they always stray beyond the borders of what we take to be real.

Q. Joe's secret heart might be a tiger's, but he also is connected to skylarks. Did you choose these creatures for particular reasons? Did the poems by Blake and Shelley play any part in these choices?
I’ve always loved skylarks–tiny birds that nest on the ground, that fly almost out of sight, then hang there and fill the sky with their passionate song. They were very common in the fields around me when I was a kid. A bright morning with skylarks singing is pretty breathtaking. It’s very English, I suppose, and larks have inspired many English artists. Shelley, yes, but also Ted Hughes, for instance, in his fine poem, “Skylarks”, and the composer Vaughan Williams in Lark Ascending. Blake’s been a big influence since I wrote Skellig, and I think his presence is there again in Secret Heart. The idea or the tiger came from circuses, and from a story an Anglo-Indian friend told me about a tiger entering someone’s tent one night and licking the flesh from his arm. Tigers are wild, beautiful, part of the world, like skylarks are, but (again like skylarks) almost other-worldly. As I began to write the book, it was like a tiger was prowling about inside my head seeking a way out. When I let it prowl onto the page, that’s when the story started to grow.

From the Paperback edition.



“With echoes of Ray Bradbury and William Blake, the Secret Heart is filled with scenes of breathtaking beauty, wonder, and astonishment. It is an unforgettable achievement.”—Booklist, Starred

From the Paperback edition.
About the Book|Discussion Questions

About the Guide


Q: Was there a specific reason why the reader and Joe do not find out the identity of Joe's father? Joe is concerned that it is the leering man, Joff, that acts as a father figure to his best friend. Why did you include such a hardened character, and what effect does he have on Joe's life?

A: I suppose it's all to do with Joe's uncertain sense of himself. In some ways, he's very tuned in to his own condition - eg he believes in his own almost-supernatural strengths - but is also weak and shy. He wants a father-figure that he can identify with, but he recoils from the thought of identifying with Joff - who is cold and cruel. I did toy with the notion of exposing Hackenschmidt as his father!

Q: Joe is almost an outcast in his town. His classmates taunt him, and do not understand him. Many children throughout the world often suffer the same way. Why do you feel the kids in Joe's town are cruel to him? Joe seems to become almost immune to their behavior. Why does he do this?

A: Kids that seem weak are often bullied/scorned by those who are supposedly 'stronger' - but who are in fact often 'weaker'. There are kids in Joe's town who look upon him with fondness - and I think that some of those who scorn and scoff are uncertain, and suspect that Joe Maloney really des have some special strengths denied to them. Joe turns away from the bullies and discovers and nourishes the strengths within himself. he also finds friends (those from the circus) who he feels have some connection with the 'real' Joe.

Q: From an early age, Joe seems to see and hear things that others can not. The only other person that seems to be able to see and hear these same things is Corinna. Why is this and what do you feel are they witnessing?

A: Joe and Corinna have not rejected their visionary selves.

Q: In your view, what does the tiger in SECRET HEART symbolize for main character Joe Maloney? Does it mean different things to different people, such as the circus folk? Why did you choose a tiger?

A: Ah, the tiger. I suppose it stands for the wildness (and wild beauty) that maybe exists inside us all. It emphasizes the fact that, although we're civilized beings, we have deep and important connections with the rest of the natural world. Also, we seem very modern, but we're also very ancient. I like the notion that our wild spirit (or secret heart) is like a wild and beautiful animal that prowls through the darkest parts of our minds and imaginations. At times the wild spirit prowls close enough for us to be able to see/hear/smell/touch it, and at other times it disappears into the remotest parts of ourselves. Joe Maloney is one of those who can recognize the wild spirit and who can walk with it. In terms of the circus, the tiger stands for a time when wild beasts were something elemental, strange and wonderful. They were like things from myths and legends. I chose the tiger for its beauty, its danger, its strangeness. And I suppose my choice is strongly influenced by William Blake.

Q: When Joe meets Corinna, he feels an immediate connection. Almost like he had known her before. How do you describe this immediate connection, and what effect does it have on Joe and his visions of the tiger?

A: I guess it's connected with the theory of reincarnation (that we've all lived before and will live again). Perhaps the tiger lived at a time when Joe and Corinna lived a previous life.

Q: The circus-folk seem to be the only people who can accept Joe's differences, and who see through to his brave soul. Why?

A: The circus people have their roots in an ancient and more 'primitive' time when a soul like Joe's was accepted as a natural part of humanity.

Q: Secret Heart is about our secret selves, and in some ways about what it means to be human. What do you hope to convey to kids reading this book?

A: I just want my readers to enjoy the book, to be absorbed into its world, and in doing so to wonder about and explore their own selves and their own imaginative possibilities. Children are so often offered little but rather drab and mechanistic explanations of their humanity.

Discussion Guides

1. Discussion questions coming soon!

From the Hardcover edition.

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