Stars and Poppy Seeds

This is an intriguing book from Ukrainian picturebook makers Romanyshyn and Lesiv. It is no suprise to learn that it won a Bologna Ragazzi Opera Prima (first works) Award.

The story concerns a young girl called Flora. Her parents are both famous mathematicians and Flora’s world is filled with numbers and formulae. Flora counts everything from platypuses to poppy seeds, and then sets herself the most challenging task of all – to count the stars. But hard as she tries, she finds it impossible. However, Flora’s mum encourages her to persevere, telling her that she can accomplish anything she sets her mind to. This is an important message especially for girls who want to succeed in fields of study that were traditionally considered male domains.

But what really makes this book stand out are the illustrations. They are glorious. In the first half of the book, the backgrounds are pale greens. Then Flora looks through a telescope at the night sky, and from there on the backgrounds are deep blue. Flora is depicted in profile on both the cover and on this telescope spread, like an ancient Egyptian figure, with maps of the stars on her body and her hair. It is an arresting image. Flora is never shown smiling – she exudes a calm seriousness.

This is a book to savour. The final three spreads are filled with information about numbers, mathematician and observatories around the world. It will appeal to children who like their fiction grounded in facts.