Raewyn Caisley (text) and Gabriel Evans (illustrator), Count the Stars, Walker Books Australia, August 2023, 32 pp., RRP $25.99 (hbk), ISBN 9781760653552
Growing up I thought I was good at maths. Not the very best, but okay. When I’d hear people say they didn’t like maths or were no good at numbers I didn’t get it. There were patterns, there was predictability, there was correct and incorrect, certainty. The feeling of working out a problem and getting the right answer was gloriously satisfying.
That part of me can relate to Maddie, the main character in this new picture book, Count the Stars. She loves shapes, patterns, and maths. She sees it everywhere, there are fractions in her piano practice and the kitchen, and symmetry in her garden. Most of the time Maddie gets to sit comfortably in her love of geometry, but sometimes she notices that it makes her different. Readers might join the dots and see that her preoccupation with all things maths is impinging on her connection with her peers. Maddie isn’t able to identify or express this, but luckily, she has perceptive parents.
One day her dad organises a special night-time playdate with the new girl, Priya. They all head to the observatory where Maddie learns about the stars and begins to consider the mega-maths that has to be used to understand them.
This is a really wonderful story about a girl who knows what her spark is and leans into it. As happens with most of us, sometimes what sparks our curiosity, interest and passion makes us different from others and can leave us feeling alone and misunderstood. It reveals the importance of kind, caring grown-ups in a kid’s life.
This story is perfect for kids aged 5-10. There is a lot that can be unpacked by parents and teachers. It might spark a discussion about times when kids feel alone and different like Maddie, or she can be held up as an example of someone who knows what she likes and owns it. The story might be used to introduce some mathematical language to young children. The illustrator has cleverly used the endpapers to create a galactic showcase for a maths glossary.
Like I said, growing up I thought I was okay at maths, and so I began to think of myself as a person who liked facts, logic and solving problems. This seemed to be at odds with being artistic, creative, and imaginative and I never thought I was those things. What I love best about this story is the ending. It shows that a person can be both fascinated by facts and a big dreamer.
Reviewed by Cherie Bell