Erin, January and Mouse live in a children's home, Whitegates. They often dream of escape, and frequently journey into the outside world. Running away is something they know all about. But this time January builds a raft, and the three of them head precariously down river. Towards the Black Middens. This time they might never come back. When they stumble across a disused factory and its strange inhabitants - Grampa and Heaven Eyes - they wonder if they'll even have the choice. Heaven Eyes is the girl who should have drowned at sea. The mysterious girl desperately searching for her family, hoping that these three might be the family she has lost. She has a secret history only Grampa knows. And does he trust these three invaders enough to tell them? Erin feels a sisterly responsibility for Heaven Eyes, Mouse longs to belong anywhere and anyhow, but January thinks Grampa's a murderer. Whatever happens, all three have a part to play. . .
A stunning novel from the author of the modern children's classic Skellig - winner of the Carnegie Medal and the Whitbread Children's Book Award. David Almond is also winner of the 2010 Hans Christian Andersen award.
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|Publisher:||Hachette Children's Group|
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|Age Range:||10 - 13 Years|
About the Author
David Almond is the author of Skellig, My Name is Mina, Counting Stars, The Savage, Island, A Song for Ella Grey, The Colour of the Sun and many other novels, stories, picture books, opera librettos, songs and plays. His work is translated into 40 languages, and is widely adapted for stage and screen. His major awards include the Carnegie Medal, two Whitbread Awards, the Eleanor Farjeon Award, the Michael L Printz Award (USA), Le Prix Sorcières (France) and the Guardian Children's Fiction Prize. In 2010 he won the Hans Christian Andersen Award, the world's most prestigious prize for children's authors. In 2021, David was awarded an OBE for services to literature.
David speaks at festivals and conferences around the world. He is Emeritus Professor of Creative Writing at Bath Spa University. He is widely regarded as one of the most exciting, inspirational and innovative children's authors writing today. He has one amazing daughter. He lives in Newcastle, the city in which he was born.
Read an Excerpt
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?"
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."
"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."
"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.
Reading Group Guide
1. Though each of the children in Heaven Eyes is an orphan, Almond develops a strong sense of family throughout the book. What role does family play in the novel? According to the book, what does it take to become a family?
2. Names and the ability to be renamed are very important to the characters in the story. Discuss the significance of each character’s name to their role in the book. What does it mean when someone is renamed? How does it change their character? What happens when Heaven Eyes discovers her true name?
3. Heaven Eyes constantly reveals her sleep thoughts to Erin and explains that they are separate from her waking thoughts. Is this true? How do the sleep thoughts of Heaven Eyes and the other characters relate to their waking lives? What happens when the two realms collide?
4. Discuss the role of death in the novel. How does death impact each of the characters? How does the children’s perception of death change from the beginning of the novel to the end? What influence do Heaven Eyes and Grampa have on that perception?
5. Erin and January set out in search of freedom and decide to bring Mouse along when they find him scavenging the earth for "real treasure." (p. 35) Do you think January and Erin are looking only for freedom? How does their search change when they reach the Black Middens? What treasures do they find when they meet Heaven Eyes and Grampa? What do those treasures come to mean to them?
6. Contrast the reactions of Erin and January when they first meet Heaven Eyes. Why do you think they react so differently to her?
7. How are light and dark important in the book? Who is associated with the light and who with the dark? Why do you think this is so?
8. The two living adult characters in the book have different ways of relating to the past. Grampa chooses to shroud the past in secrecy, while Maureen continually asks the children in her care to reveal their memories. How do the children respond to the adults’ ways of dealing with the past? What effect do the secrets and revelations have on the children? How do the children choose to deal with the past on their own? How does it affect their self-knowledge?
9. As they set out to return to Whitegates, Erin notes, "The most marvelous of things could be found a few yards away, a river’s-width away. The most extraordinary things existed in our ordinary world and just waited for us to find them." (p.194) How is this statement reflected throughout the book? How does this view of the world vary from one that Erin and January might have expressed at the beginning of the novel?
10. At the end of the novel Erin explains to Maureen that "We run for freedom. . . . Just for freedom." (p. 197) Do you think Erin, January, and Mouse found what they set out to find? Are there ways in which Heaven Eyes might represent freedom to them?