Each month during the new moon going outside very late at night or very early in the morning, when the rest of the world is sleeping, the number of stars spread across the darkened, cloudless sky is spectacular. It's a display only Mother Nature can produce. If you are fortunate one of those stars will decide it's time for you to make a wish. They will fall arching toward the horizon.
There are those who gaze at those stars and wonder what it would be like to walk among them, much as you would wander through a meadow of daisies. Stardust (Nosy Crow, an imprint of Candlewick Press, February 12, 2019) written by Jeanne Willis with illustrations by Briony May Smith is a tale of a little girl who dreams of stars. She is also searching for something everyone needs.
When I was little,
I wanted to be a star.
The members of her family thought her older sister was a star. When her sister found a precious lost item, made something and won a contest, she received top-notch praise. The younger child could not seem to earn that kind of recognition.
In fact, after her most recent loss, she burst into tears. That night sitting outside and watching the stars, our protagonist wished out loud to be one of them. Her grandfather heard her.
He told her she was already a star. In a story to her he offered an explanation as to this truth. He took her back, back, back in time. There was nothing. Slowly he brought her forward describing how everything and everyone was and is connected by stardust.
She asked him another question. His answer warmed her on the inside, until she sparkled on the outside. She never stopped.
With her first sentence author Jeanne Willis invites readers to remember past wishes and hold fresh wishes in their hearts. She continues by showing us several examples, three, where the little girl feels like her dream of being a star is never going to come true. By having the grandfather offer support and a special story to his granddaughter, this narrative bridges generations. Weaving dialogue into the first-person narrative makes it more personal for us. Here is a passage.
When Nana showed us how to
knit, the scarf I made for Granddad
was full of holes.
But the scarf my sister made for Nana wasn't.
"It's perfect. You little star!"
Rendered in mixed media by Briony May Smith, the illustrations, beginning with the open matching dust jacket and book case, radiate warmth and a golden light. The scene on the front, right, extends over the spine with the trunk of the tree reaching into the lower left-hand corner. Additional delicate flowers in shades of blue spring up near the trunk. In the distance nearby homes dot the hillside, windows gleaming in the night. The title text and a ribbon of stars on the front of the dust jacket are done in silver foil.
On the opening and closing endpapers the darker yellow-orange color becomes the canvas. Prior to the verso and title pages, the little girl is place on a creamy white background, seated and reading an astronomy book. She is wearing her star-shaped barrettes. On the verso and title pages a pathway leads into the hillside community at night. It's done in hues of blue, green, white and yellow.
Each of the images span double-pages, reaching out and wrapping around readers. They are familial scenes with parents, grandparents and the two daughters. In one we enjoy a backyard picnic with a swing hanging from the big tree. Careful readers will see a black cat in several of the pictures. Many of the illustrations have at least one book in them.
When Granddad is telling his story, the settings in space, the sea and a jungle are breathtaking. The featured children and their parents come from diverse backgrounds. Another thing not mentioned in the text but added by Briony May Smith is the gift Granddad gives to his younger granddaughter. This is a beautiful extension of the story. We see him carrying something when he hears her making the wish. It isn't until her final question and his answer we see it opened and laying on the nighttime meadow. Readers will be fascinated with all the details found in every visual.
One of my many favorite illustrations is when Granddad and the little girl are under the sea. Across two pages Briony May Smith has placed sea creatures of all shapes and sizes in shimmering colors of yellow, green, blue and purple. There are mammals, dolphins, with sea turtles and jellyfish. A shaft of light shines on the single word of text. Granddad is stretched out with his legs crossed and his arms behind his head. A smile tugs on his mouth. He is wearing the holey scarf. The little girl is extending her nose to give a nuzzle to a dolphin. I love how Granddad and his granddaughter are wearing their ordinary clothes in all these special settings.
Who has not felt less than they should in a family, classroom or community setting? Stardust written by Jeanne Willis with illustrations by Briony May Smith allows readers to see we all have something special to offer this world. We have the potential to make our dreams come true, even if we want to be a star. This is a welcome addition to your professional and personal collections.
To learn more about Jeanne Willis and Briony May Smith and their other work, please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites. Briony May Smith maintains an account on Tumblr, Instagram and Twitter. At Nosy Crow and Candlewick Press you can view interior images.