Review: The Stars

The Stars

by Jacques Goldstyn

Aldana Libros (imprint of Greystone Kids), 2023

Category: Middle Grade
Reviewer: Eva L. Weiss
Buy at

The story of young Yakov's fascination with astronomy is told in the first-person, in a straightforward and authentic voice, smoothly translated from the original French. Yakov, who seems to be about age 10-11, has three younger sisters and they are children of a Hassidic family whose father owns a grocery store. Yakov stumbles upon a Muslim girl in the playground, and their instant friendship and shared passion for astronomy is conveyed simply and naturally. The illustrations of this graphic novel are charming and lighthearted, with feathery strokes and eye-pleasing colors. Expressive faces and clever close-ups add to the fun. The plot thickens when Yakov and Aicha discover that they are soulmates as well as neighbors. Their stern-hearted fathers go as far as building a wall between their homes to separate them. The story is plotted like a fairytale. Spoiler alert--Yakov and Aicha meet again as adults, serendipitously, at a science conference. They have both achieved their dreams of becoming astronomers and once they reunite, they are inseparable. It is a sweet and artfully told story, with a bit of knowledge of astronomy thrown into the mix and a clear moral about the power of a child's determination to, quite literally, reach for the stars.

The young hero's Jewish identity is conveyed solely through outward appearances: the curled sidelocks of the boys and men, the traditional dress of the family, the father's storefront sign which advertises gefilte fish, and other aspects of the landscape (with signs all in French). Young readers will not learn about Jewish heritage beyond those superficialities, and will only be exposed only to the heavyhearted determination of the tradition-bound fathers to keep their children apart. The illustrations reveal that Yakov leaves behind his heritage in the pursuit of the study of astronomy, as though religion and science are irreconcilable. The story, sweet as it is, preserves stereotypes, without leaving room for exploring the values of Judaism, religious faith, and appreciation for tradition. A thoughtful parent or teacher could raise those issues in a conversation, but the book itself does not offer a pathway to that discourse.

Are you interested in reviewing books for The Sydney Taylor Shmooze? Click here!
Reviewer Eva Weiss is a writer, editor, and translator. She was born in New York City and worked in the publishing industry there before making her home in Israel many years ago. She is the author of the children's book I Am Israeli (Mitchell-Lane, 2016). She writes cultural and human interest features for a range of publications.