Aya and the Star Chaser by Radiya Hafiza

Aya and the Star Chaser – at a glance

The School Reading Lists’ five word review: Unexpected, magical, cultural, fairy tale.
Children’s book title: Aya and the Star Chaser.
Children’s author: Radiya Hafiza.
Children’s illustrator: Kaley McKean.
Genre: Fairy tale/folk tale.
Published by: Macmillan Children’s Books
ISBN: 9781529038323.
Recommended for children aged: 9-11.
First published: Paperback March 2024.
This children’s book is ideal for: KS2 fans of enchanting modern fairy tales.

Aya and the Star Chaser by Radiya Hafiza

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Our review:

We meet Aya, a creative, adventurous night owl who loves star gazing with her friend Naznen. Naznen is Aya’s only friend, her best friend and they live in the fictional town called Alferra.

Aya lives with her Ammu (mum in Bengali), secluded in her two-storey, rickety wooden house on a farm. Growing up, Aya has been exposed to myths and tales of merpeople and terrifying creatures that lurk all around. Aya’s Ammu, Jannah, worries about her leaving the house alone. Aya’s father left home when she was 3 years old and Jannah never speaks of him. At times, Aya feels her Ammu can be overbearing and strict, but we soon learn why!

Aya and the Star Chaser by Radiya Hafiza spread 1

Defying her ammu’s orders, one night Aya sneaks out of her home and meets Naznen in a clearing to view the Perseids meteor shower, which occurs over Alferra every year before Autumn arrives. However, tragedy strikes when suddenly a shooting star comes zooming towards them, they run but Aya gets struck down. Injured and afraid, Naznen gets her home and Aya stays in bed for the next week, ill with a soaring temperature.

Unsure of what has happened to her, Aya starts to experience the most peculiar changes in her body. Coughs turn to flames, tears grow into snowdrops, steam blows out her ears in anger, and silver streaks shoot out of her hands! Is she turning into a star? Aya confides in Naznen and eventually comes clean to her Ammu who is furious she disobeyed her orders to leave the home alone but also worried about what is happening to her daughter.

Aya returns to school, back to some normality but soon we realise that Aya’s world is about to be turned upside down! One day on the way home from school, Aya sees red eyes burning through the trees in the forest and again at home on her farm. We learn of a creature called a Bhoot, spoken about in Bengali folklore. It comes towards her ready to attack and in a panic, Aya shoots silver sparks at it knocking it out and causing it pain. Where has the creature come from or worse of all, who has sent it to find her?

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Aya and her Ammu try to find help, to find out why Aya has all these powers she cannot control. They end up seeking counsel from the elders who send her to find a woman called Sahar. Sahar will be attending the yearly royal ball which Aya has been dying to attend for years but has always been refused by her Ammu. At the Somerfest ball, they find Sahar who tells them of a prophecy her own mother had told to Aya’s father.

‘Under the red burning moon, a babe will be born
The first to her parents, before the sun rises for dawn
Many moons later, a star shall find her
Gifting her with powers known only to the Maker
None but the star can defeat the dark witch
All will be made right under the cover of darkness’

But where is Aya’s father? Is he still alive? What happened to Jannah (Aya’s Ammu) to make her so overprotective of Aya? Will Aya fulfil the prophecy as the star who defeats evil?

After all… she is only a child!

Our verdict:

A stunningly written children’s fiction book with wonderful descriptions of the land and the characters. Radiya cleverly includes references to a young girl, weaving her way through growing up as a Muslim with chores and routines; and a strict but loving mother. This exposes readers to a strong family unit exuding in culture and traditions which will not only excite but educate the reader. The discovery of who Aya is and where she has come from brings this adventure to a close as we find out the verdict of the prophecy.

Beautifully entwined with traditional Bengali folklore, this gothic fairy tale explores good versus evil, the love of family and conquering the darkest of enemies.

Teaching points and book club discussion ideas:

  • Comparison between different cultures and religions
  • Discuss how important it is to listen to advice that keeps us safe and parents’/carers’ rules.
  • Exploration of meteor shows, stars and the moon
  • Further reading of Bengali folklore and comparing them to folklore/myths from other countries/cultures

Many thanks to Macmillan Children’s Books for the review copy.

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If you like Aya and the Star Chaser by Radiya Hafiza you might also like: our reviews of Alyssa and the Spell Garden by Alexandra Sheppard, The Grimmelings by Rachael King, Mia and the Traitor of Nubis by Janelle McCurdy and The Thief of Farrowfell by Ravena Guron.

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About Harriet Davies

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Experienced primary school teacher, reading and phonics lead, school librarian and children's book enthusiast! Twitter | Reviews by Harriet Davies