Phil Cummings (text) and Connah Brecon (illustrator), Joe and the Stars, Scholastic Australia, February 2021, 32 pp., RRP $24.99 (hbk), ISBN 9781742995045
Joe lives way out in the red dust, under an enormous blanket of stars. The land was flat and the sky was wide, and he loves to sit under a tree his grandfather planted. Until, one day, trucks arrive and Joe and his family pack up and move to the city, to a home that sat in shadows as grey as a thunderstorm day. Here, Joe misses his stars, but with creativity and friendship, finds a way to recreate them.
Joe’s story is a familiar one, often covered in picture books – moving from a beloved home to a new place and finding a way to make it comfortable. Joe and the Stars reminds me of Florette by Anna Walker and Clancy and Millie and the Very Fine House by Libby Gleeson. It is Cummings’ thoughtful and deft use of language that makes this book a different take on this theme of relocation. His similes, dust drifted like sunburnt fog, a boy that spun like a whirlwind, metaphors, a lonely star on the edge of a black hole, and the symbolism of the stars themselves fill the book with layers of meaning and delight.
Brecon’s illustrations play with perspective, scope and most importantly, light and shadow, to support Cummings’ thoughtful story. I especially loved the double page spread of the dark, starless sky above Joe’s country house.
Teachers could use this picture book with all ages, to discuss the way Joe deals with change, the connection to his grandfather, and the idea that just because you can’t see them, doesn’t mean they aren’t there. This book would also be a great resource to talk about tone, both in the illustrations and the language – the contrast between the pages when Joe is happily ensconced in the outback, to his first few days in the city.
Reviewed by Madeleine Crofts