Starflower: The Making of a Poet, Edna St. Vincent Millay

Image of Starflower: The Making of a Poet, Edna St. Vincent Millay
Release Date: 
April 25, 2023
Cameron Kids
Reviewed by: 

Starflower is a true labor of love celebrating resilience, girlhood, and the profoundly transformative power of art.”

As an introduction to an iconic poet, Starflower: The Making of a Poet, Edna St. Vincent Millay, strikes a delicate balance between historical accuracy and the whimsy of a picture book. It serves as both an enchanting primer and a heartfelt tribute to Millay, the trailblazing poet who paved the way for generations to come.

The book’s co-authors, Farkas and Vizzo, labored over the project for years, passing it back and forth between their respective homes in New York and California under the agreement that they would not speak on the phone until the book was finished.

It is the debut of artist and illustrator Jasmin Dwyer, who created the world of the young Millay sisters in a compelling arrangement of watercolor and collage. The effect is both classic and innovative.

In the book, a starflower metaphorically represents Millay's innate talent and the supportive relationships she shared with her two sisters. Just as a starflower might thrive in adversity, so, too, did Millay find inspiration and solace in the companionship of her siblings and the natural world around her.

The text reads like poetry beginning with the opening lines: “Good things come in threes, like peas like wishes like sisters.” The lyrical story follows the trio romping freely “tangled in the bayberry bushes & queen of the meadow, the hardhack & rosehips” near their home in coastal Maine in what seems to be an idyllic setting for children and poets alike.

However, the girls’ actual upbringing was more unconventional and wistful than idyllic—they were often left alone to fend for themselves without caregivers.

The authors introduce Millay’s mother, Cora Lounella Buzzell, as “not like other mothers. She was ambitious & unordinary & wanted the same for her daughters.” Buzzell was a traveling nurse whose work took her far from home, which was especially hard on the family since Millay’s father, Henry Millay, had left when she was just seven years old.  

As storytellers, Farkas and Vizzo know how to weave a tale as good as any Grimm’s:

            “Alone at home, the girls felt almost like

            orphans. If they forgot to fill the lamps, they

            fumbled, lightless. If they didn’t stoke the fire,

            they trembled in the cold.


            Cold, cold. Forty-degrees-below cold. So cold

            your mouth could only hold one icy-blue word.”

Across the pages, Dwyer’s stunning watercolor of the three sisters entwined, their hair (Edna’s fiery red) braided in with patchwork is incredibly touching.

While the sisters' upbringing was unconventional and often fraught with loneliness, Farkas and Vizzo illuminate the resilience that bloomed amid adversity. It seems like a good message to young readers that exceptional poets emerge not only from life’s adventures and discoveries but also from the depths of hardship and sadness.

The authors remind readers of all ages of the importance of resilience and perseverance through the example of young Edna, (who went by the nickname of Vincent) turning her joys and sorrows into what would lead her to become the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for poetry. Starflower is a true labor of love celebrating resilience, girlhood, and the profoundly transformative power of art.