Looking at the Stars

LATS_final_oct2013 (2)WINNER Hampshire Book Award

WINNER Coventry Inspiration Book award (Hooked On Books category 9-12s)

WINNER North East Book Award

Nominated for the Carnegie Medal

Shortlisted for the UKLA Awards

Highly Commended in the Oxfordshire Book Awards


Amina Ambrose lives with her mother, father, two sisters and brother in a country ruled by a dictator. Amina and her sisters have to wear coloured headscarves that identify their age and they have been banned from education since the tyrant came to power. Amina can’t help asking questions that get her into trouble – “Why does it have to be this way? Why can’t we change things?” – and she is constantly told she has too much imagination and should keep her head down.

To Amina’s delight, and to the relief of many people, an army arrives to liberate the country. She assumes that the old regime will be got rid of quickly, but things only go from bad to worse. The government cracks down on minority groups, and Amina is forced to wear a badge to indicate her cultural and genetic heritage; a badge that can only divide the population, not unite it against their rulers.

Amina’s brother is furious and desperate to join the rebellion. Their father, enraged by his disobedience and frightened for the future of his family, throws him out. But the damage is done and the whole family will pay…

Amina finds herself walking to a refugee camp with her sister Jenna. To keep their spirits up, she starts to tell stories about the stars they can see in the night sky. Soon she discovers that her imagination, once a thing to be despised and hidden, can have immeasurable value in their new life as refugees. Amina, “the girl who tells stories” now has a new direction and a reason to keep living. And who knows? One day, what remains of her family may be united again…

Looking at the Stars was published on 30th January 2014 in hardback and in June 2015 in paperback. It’s suitable for readers of 11 upwards because of the content.

Themes: civil war, oppression, death, poverty, refugees, discrimination, imagination, hope, family, loss, love, friendship, the power of storytelling.



“A heart-wrenching and emotional story that will likely pull at your heartstrings and make you think about the events occurring in the world around us.” OnceUponAMoonlightReview

“Amina learns that every talent has a place in life, and not to underestimate the powerful effect that talents have when used for others.” Nayu’s Reading Corner

“This book has really made me think about how lucky I am to have a house with running water and a bedroom to myself and more than one bathroom. Some people in the world, like Amina’s family, are not as lucky and have no running water and no electricity. In summary, this is a thought provoking book and it could make you cry.” Amber, aged 10, Book Walrus

“This is a powerful and compelling book…a book that I suspect will be talked about long after it has been put down.” Rachel, Book Walrus

Looking at the Stars is beautifully told in simple but elegant prose and it’s a truthful story. It doesn’t duck the truth of the terrible situations endured by refugees around the world but it doesn’t leave you feeling that everything is hopeless. That’s what imagination does, you see.” The Bookbag

“Jo Cotterill’s story is utterly convincing, at times brutal and upsetting but ultimately a tribute to the power of the imagination to lift the human spirit above the harsh realities of life.” Mary Hoffman, Book Maven

“The stories Amina tells will have you entranced; but the horrors of war and its effects are disturbing. An excellent read which may well increase understanding of how people are affected by war and strife in their own country.” Parents In Touch

“Looking at the Stars is an incredible read.” Rebekah Johnson, Goodreads

“A beautifully tragic book filled with hope and inspiration.” Sarah, Goodreads

“Looking at the Stars is one of the best, if not the BEST book I have ever read.” PetrovaFossil, Guardian Books Blog


15 thoughts on “Looking at the Stars

  1. This book is the best book I’ve ever read. I have lost ount of the times that i have curled up in my bed with this book, and devoured it, drinking in every word. It is a delight from start to finish. Before i know it it is 5:00 in the morning!

  2. I got this book yesterday and already I am done! This book is the best book ever it was an absolute page turner i want to read another book exactly like it as it is so meaningful and interesting!!! Is there going to be a sequel pls let me know

    1. Hi Daniel! Looking at the Stars is a work of fiction, not set in a named country. Is that what you were asking? The time period is contemporary – so, now, but in a third world country, not a Western one. Hope that helps!

  3. HI Jo, thanks for awensering, i’m actually doing my English project on this book! one of the tasks was a timeline so that’s why i was asking.

      1. I’m very glad to hear that! Good luck with your project. I understand your question a bit better now. I think the answer is that the book is set over a few months. I’m not quite sure how long exactly because I don’t think I ever worked it out! But it’s probably a couple of weeks of stuff before they get to the refugee camp, and then they’re there for…er…two or three months? Longer? It’s been a while since I worked on it, so I can’t remember! (if in doubt for your project, take your best guess!)

  4. Hi Jo,

    I am the Young Producer for Journeys Festival International produced by ArtReach. Our festivals across Leicester, Manchester, Portsmouth and Europe celebrate the amazing talent of refugee and asylum seeker artists through an exciting programme of events in each city.

    Last year you were kind enough to donate a copy of Looking at the Stars to our Floating Library. I am leading the project this year and revitalising the library and wondered if you would like to donate a fresh copy?

    Warm wishes, Ella

  5. I’m not sure if you’ll remember this, but, around 2015-2017 before your book “Electrigirl” was published you visited a primary school in Oxfordshire (I won’t be any more specific for privacy’s sake) and you mentioned this book. I think I remember you saying it was for slightly older readers, I do think I was in year 5 or 6 at the time, but I read it anyway haha. It ended up being a book that had quite the impact on me, I finished it in one sitting, and it’s one of the only books I’ve read more than once. It’s been a few years since I last read it, but I still remember it and how much joy it brought a ten-year-old girl back then.

    So, thank you 🙂

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