cover image Maria's Comet

Maria's Comet

Deborah Hopkinson. Atheneum Books, $16 (32pp) ISBN 978-0-689-81501-0

This poetic picture book imagines the childhood of Maria Mitchell, America's first woman astronomer. Like Hopkinson's previous heroines (Sweet Clara and the Freedom Quilt; Birdie's Lighthouse), Maria (pronounced ma-RYE-ah) possesses determination, a questioning spirit and a gentle heart. Though Maria helps her mother care for her eight siblings and keeps tidy their home on Nantucket Island in the early 1800s, she never loses her infectious love for the stars, a passion she inherited from her father. When her brother Andrew asks her to run away with him to a life on the sea, Maria determines, ""I will be an explorer, but I want to sail the sea of stars."" The author plants the seeds for Maria's later accomplishments (the first professor of astronomy at Vassar; a co-founder of the Association for the Advancement of Women) in the first-person narrative: ""Each constellation is a patchwork of stories/ passed down from the beginning of time."" Lanino (The Littlest Angel) augments this powerful image with an equally potent rendering of Maria's rooftop communion with the stars, her eyes wide as the celestial configurations illuminate the sky. The artist closes the distance between earth and stars with the warmth and softness that permeate each illustration. This lilting story, combined with closing notes on both Mitchell and astronomy, will likely ignite further interest in its passionate protagonist. Ages 4-8. (Sept.)