When I was a kid, I loved to count all sorts of things, as so many children do. Because numbers are fascinating! Even the names are cool: long before there was Google, there were googols and googolplexes.
In Stars and Poppy Seeds, a picture book for ages 3-7, Flora is the child of mathematicians. And Flora easily puts my childhood counting to shame. She counts “sea cows, elephants, and platypuses… poppy seeds, grains of rice, the polka dots on her new red dress, the pearls on her mum’s necklace and the letters in her dad’s book.” She ponders the number of drops in bodies of water.
But despite being an accomplished master-counter, when she tries to count all the stars in the Milky Way, she is stymied, as there are too many. None of the fancy equations and formulas she learned from her parents help at all.
What to do?
Her mom gives her excellent motivational advice, one that all adults and children should heed—particularly a budding girl mathematician: “Every task, even the most complicated, begins the same way: with one step. If you take small steps, you can achieve even your biggest dreams.”
Part of the charm of Stars and Poppy Seeds comes from its beautifully detailed, whimsical illustrations, replete with graph paper for the end pages. And part of it comes from the idiosyncratically intriguing backmatter. One spread has random fun facts about numbers and space. Another gives short bios of a handful of famous mathematicians. A third lists ten of the world’s observatories and science/mathematics museums, from Ireland to Italy to Australia.
While Stars and Poppy Seeds is ostensibly a picture book for young readers, it has more than enough to engage the older person reading it aloud—which, of course, the best picture books always do.
Written and illustrated by Romana Romanyshyn and Andriy Lesiv
Translated from the Ukrainian by Oksana Lushchevka
2019 Abrams Books
Awards: Bologna Ragazzi Opera Prima prize, 2014
Read an interview with the husband-and-wife author-illustrator team.
Award-winning opera singer Nanette McGuinness is the translator of over 50 books and graphic novels for children and adults from French, Italian, and German into English, including the well-known Geronimo Stilton Graphic Novels. Two of her latest translations, Luisa: Now and Then (Humanoids, 2018) and California Dreamin’: Cass Elliot Before the Mamas & the Papas (First Second, 2017) were chosen for YALSA’s Great Graphic Novels for Teens; Luisa: Now and Then was also a 2019 Stonewall Honor Book. Her most recent translations are Little Josephine: Memory in Pieces, Super Sisters, Bibi and Miyu, Undead Messiah #3 (TOKYPOP, 2020).