Reading middle-grade fiction as an adult is a lot of fun. Even if the narrative is dark, there is an underlying innocence about the worlds and characters of these stories. Also, the fantasy and adventure in them evoke pleasant memories of our childhood. However, that was not the reason why I picked up ‘The Star Outside My Window’. I picked it up after reading a compelling review of it in a Facebook group for bibliophiles, and I felt that it would be a good way of introducing novels to my six-year-old.
From the review, it was clear that the book deals with a sensitive topic, that of parental death and domestic violence, and I was curious to know how the author had managed to convey these realities to young readers. But I was also jittery about the prospects of reading the same to my son, who hadn’t yet been introduced to the likes of Enid Blyton or Roald Dahl, and who hadn’t yet reached the reading age suitable for this book.
So this write-up is going to be as much about the book as it will be about my experience of reading it to my son. We had both decided to take it slow and read one chapter a day. I had decided not to over-explain, and censor only if things got out of hand. But the writing was so good that I didn’t have to censor anything, despite the odd moments of silence I had encountered when reading the murky bits.
In a week we were at the halfway mark, and for some reason my son got bored! I didn’t see that coming. He angrily put the book back in the rack once we were done with the 11th chapter. I couldn’t pinpoint what had put him off, and resigned to the fact that we weren’t going to read the book again. However, a week later he came back and reminded me that I had forgotten to read him the remaining chapters. I was startled by how nonchalantly he had passed the blame onto me for not meeting our agreed target for finishing the book. Anyways, we continued, and in 2 weeks we were done.
But the reaction from him after having finished his first novel was a bit of an anti-climax. It seemed as if he wasn’t impressed. Just relieved at finishing the book, made apparent by the ‘phew’ he let out before jumping off the bed to return the book to the rack. I left it at that. Thoughts flooded my mind – maybe the topic was too sensitive? Was I over-ambitious? Did I corrupt his innocent mind with dark thoughts? … I asked myself. It wasn’t until a week later that I got the answer.
His teachers had asked him to pick a person, place, animal or thing to speak for a minute for their “introduction to nouns” in class. Guess what he chose – a book, ‘The Star Outside My Window’. It’s only then that I realized that the book had actually made an impact on him. I was thrilled!
This was how Advay introduced the book to his class. “The Star Outside My Window is the story of two children Aniyah and Noah, who go on a road trip with their friends Travis and Ben on their bicycles, from their foster home to the Royal Observatory in London to name the newly discovered star after their mother. I really enjoyed reading the book and you should read it too!”
Let me add my two cents to his description. I felt that this book was an emotionally engaging read. We as parents generally tend to shy away from difficult topics which we deem unsuitable when choosing books for our children. But this book deals with the subject of parental death with maturity and finesse. The pain and suffering have been conveyed metaphorically, and the tenderness of the storytelling is retained throughout. The characters are well-sketched and the author gives them unique characteristics to make them easily distinguishable for young readers. This is definitely a book that you should gift your child.
Advay and I finished the book two days before we lost our dog. So the book took a different meaning for us. He was our first dog, and was with us for 13 years. That evening when we returned after his burial, my son asked, “Is Joshua going to become a star outside my window?”. I nodded.