For Ages
8 to 12

From the award-winning author of The Boy at the Back of the Class comes a middle grade novel about the power of hope to sustain even when tragedy strikes.

Ten-year-old Aniyah and her little brother Noah find themselves living in foster care after the sudden disappearance of their mum. With her life in disarray, Aniyah knows just one thing for sure: her mum isn't gone forever.

Aniyah believes that the people with the brightest hearts never truly disappear. They become stars. When scientists discover a new star acting strangely, Aniyah knows it's really her mum. To make sure everyone else knows, too, she embarks on the adventure of a lifetime--one that involves breaking into the Royal Observatory of London, and meeting the biggest star in Hollywood.

This is an honest yet empathetic exploration of how people respond to difficult circumstances, told through the innocent voice of a ten-year-old girl.

An Excerpt fromThe Star Outside My Window


A Map to the Stars

I’ve always wanted to be a star hunter.

Everyone else calls them astronomers, but I think “star hunter” sounds much better, so that’s what I’m going to call myself. But I’m not going to be the kind of star hunter that looks for old stars. I want to find the brand-­new ones—­the ones that have only just been born and are searching for the people they’ve left behind. I read in a library book once that stars can burn for millions and billions and even trillions of years. I hope that’s true, because there’s one star I don’t ever want to stop burning. I don’t know where it is yet, but I know it’s out there, waiting for me to find it.

Back in my real house, where I lived with Mum and Dad, I had three whole shelves of books in my bedroom, and at least half of them were all about stars and space travel. The walls and ceiling were covered with posters and glow-­in-­the-­dark stars that I’d begged Mum and Dad to get me. But the best thing in my room was my special star globe, which sat right next to my bed. From far away, it looked like a globe of the world—­but it wasn’t. It was a globe of the night sky, and instead of countries and oceans, it lit up with all the constellations you could ever think of. There was a different constellation every time you switched it on, and I knew all of them by heart. That’s why new stars will be easy for me to spot when I’m a star hunter—­if you know a picture by heart, it’s easy to tell when something about it is different.

I wish Mum hadn’t forgotten to pack the star globe. Sometimes I miss it so much that I wonder if I’ll ever stop missing it. I miss it even more now that Noah and me have had to move to the strange new place we’re living in right now.

We’ve been here for two days, and even though the house is much nicer than the last one we had to hide in with Mum, I’m not sure I like it here. It’s full of creepy noises. Like floorboards creaking when there’s no one there, invisible things tapping on the window at night as if they’re trying to get in, and tiny squeaks and scratchings coming from behind the walls. My little brother, Noah, thinks the house is haunted—­he gets so scared at bedtime that I have to make him lie down with his head under the covers and I hug him tight until he falls asleep. Noah’s only five. It’s OK for a five-­year-­old to be scared of ghosts, but it’s silly for a ten-­year-­old to believe in them, so I won’t. No matter how much the noises make me want to hide under the covers with him.

But it’s not just the noises that make this house feel strange. It’s the people in it too.

There’s a boy called Travis who doesn’t speak. He’s eleven, tall and skinny, and looks like an elastic band that’s been stretched too far. His teeth stick out from under his lips because of the big silver braces on them—­his mouth looks like a builder tried to squeeze lots of bits of metal scaffolding inside and didn’t know when to stop. Most of the time he just stares at me with his huge gray-­brown eyes that stick out like Ping-­Pong balls. I don’t like people staring at me. My cheeks turn bright red and it makes me feel like running away. But he keeps doing it, even when I stare back at him.

Then there’s Ben, who has huge, fluffy black hair that looks like it’s been put on his head by a giant ice cream scoop. He’s ten years old like me, with bright brown eyes that look like they’re asking you a million questions, and a shiny round pimple on his left cheek that he keeps poking when he thinks no one is looking. He always wears a Newcastle United hooded sweatshirt the wrong way around, and eats popcorn and crisps from inside the hood as if it’s a bowl. Ben says strange things and asks me lots of questions—­as if he’s a detective on a TV show and I’m a criminal. Questions like “Hey! Why are you here?” and “Do you guys need to get adopted too?” and “Holy big fat goalie, Aniyah! Don’t you like fish sticks? Can I have them instead, then?” I hate being asked questions almost as much as I hate being stared at—­especially when I don’t know the answers and my voice isn’t working. So whenever he asks me anything, I just look at the floor and shrug.

Finally, there’s Sophie. Sophie’s thirteen, which makes her the oldest out of all of us, but she’s still shorter than Travis. Sophie has long, straight, bright red hair and exactly twenty-­seven brown freckles across her nose. I counted them as soon as I met her, because I like freckles. I think freckles and stars look nearly the same—­all tiny and fiery—­and it’s fun to see what shapes you can make out of them. I wish I had freckles, but I don’t. Not even a single one. If Sophie and me were friends, I’d tell her that her freckles make the shape of a blue whale or a ship with three sails, depending on which way you connect them. But Sophie doesn’t like me or Noah, so I don’t think I’m ever going to be able to tell her that. I know she doesn’t like us, because whenever Mrs. Iwu­chuk­wu isn’t looking, she gives us lots of I-hate-­you stares and narrows her eyes and grits her teeth. Getting one of those stares always makes my hands and feet go ice-­cold.

Mrs. Iwu­chuk­wu is the woman who owns the house we’re all living in, and is one of the strangest grown-­ups I’ve ever met. She wears lots and lots of necklaces and beads and bracelets, so whenever she moves, she makes clunking noises like marbles moving inside a bag. She also smiles so much that I think her cheeks must hurt all the time. I’ve never seen anyone smile as much as she does. Most of the time I have to look around to see what she’s smiling at, because usually you need a reason to smile. But Mrs. Iwu­chuk­wu doesn’t seem to need one. When I first met her, I thought she was Ben’s mum, because they have the same kind of hair, all big and bouncy, and the exact same color skin. She has shiny bright pink lips and wears lots of glitter around her dark brown eyes and her accent makes her sound as if she’s half singing and half telling you off. I don’t know if me and Noah like Mrs. Iwu­chuk­wu yet. But we have to try, and we have to try to make her like us too, because she’s the only one who can keep us together now that everyone else has disappeared. That’s what a foster mum does—­keeps kids like me and Noah together when their mums and dads have disappeared.

I never knew what a foster mum was until two nights ago. I had a real mum until then, so I guess I never needed to know. But when Mum left, two policemen and a tall woman in a black suit came and said we had to go to a foster home so we could meet our new foster mum. I didn’t like the sound of a “foster” anything—­they sound like pretend things, things that try to make you believe they’re yours when they’re not. Noah didn’t like the sound of them either and began to cry and scream and hiccup straightaway.

Noah only ever hiccups or cries when he gets really scared. Mum said it was my lifelong job to look after him, so when he started crying and hiccuping in front of the policemen and the woman in the suit, I tried to tell him with my eyes not to be scared because I was there to protect him. But I don’t think he saw my eye-­words, because he cried and hiccuped the whole time we were sitting in the back of the police car and then all through the night too. I wish I could have said nice things to him with my real words instead of just invisible ones, but my voice vanished when I heard Mum leaving us, and it still hasn’t come back yet. I think it will come back just as soon as I find out where Mum is for sure.

That’s why I can’t wait until I’m a grown-­up to become a star hunter—­I have to become one right away so I can find out which part of the sky Mum is in now. Every star in the sky has a name and a story, and extra-­superspecial stars become part of a constellation and part of an even bigger story. I know, because Mum explained the truth about stars to me properly after we watched The Lion King together.

Under the Cover