Inspiring Young Readers

posted on 12 Nov 2023

Count the Stars: A timeless celebration of maths by Raewyn Caisley, illustrated by Gabriel Evans

It’s remarkable how books can take me into subject areas that would normally make the blood drain from my face. From my earliest school days, maths has been a mystery to me. Not only did I fail every maths exam I’ve ever been put through, I retain memories of traumatic evenings trying to do my maths homework that are akin to PTSD flashbacks. I went on to have a pretty successful academic and teaching career but my relationship with maths remained the in the dark corner of my non-achievements.

So, I came to Raewyn Caisley and Gabriel Evans’ new picture book for younger children with a slight hesitation: could they make the most hardened maths refusenik enjoy the experience? Well, I’m glad to report that the answer to that question is a resounding, yes.

Maddie is a young girl who loves maths – more accurately she loves the shapes and patterns of the world that can best be explained by maths. She finds these mathematical patterns everywhere – in the parallel lines of her bedroom blinds, the new path in the garden, the structure of flowers, her piano keys and the musical notes she plays.

Unsurprisingly, Maddie’s favourite subject at school is maths – but science is not so very far behind. When her friends come to the house to play, Maddie likes games involving her maths skills but her young friends like more boisterous, chaotic games. Sometimes this makes Maddie a little sad – will she ever find a friend who shares her understanding and love of all things mathematical?

Then, one day, there’s a new girl at school, Priya, who turns out to be the perfect companion. Priya’s mum, it turns out, has come to work with Maddie’s dad at the observatory and when the two girls are allowed to visit and see the telescope for themselves, a whole new world of astronomy is opened up for them to share.

This clever book not only tells a lovely story of new friendship but skilfully starts the process of demystifying the whole language of maths and shows how it can hold the key to mind-expanding notions such as stars, galaxies and planets. To underline the message, the words are sprinkled again across the night sky that fills the front and end papers of the book.

Has it changed my feeling about maths? Maybe I’m way too old for that now but how I wish I’d had books like this to show me just how magical and fascinating it can be if you’re not frightened by it.

This big, generous and beautifully illustrated book is brought to us by Walker Books and can be obtained from your local independent bookshop – who will be glad to order it for you if it’s not on their shelves.

Terry Potter

November 2023