Saturday, January 24, 2015

Stella by Starlight

Stella by Starlight by Sharon Draper is an engaging and excellent work of historical fiction that perfectly captures the time prior to the beginning of the Civil Rights movements, but that shows its beginnings. It is more than that too. It is a story about community, family, and one girl who dreams by starlight and yearns to make her world bigger and better.

Stella's world is changed one night when her brother wakes her up to show her a scary sight. Across the pond they can see the eerie light of a cross on fire. This can mean only one thing. The Klan is again active in their town of Bumblebee. Fear makes its way across the black community and Stella is questioning all the injustices around her. Why do she and her friends go to a smaller different school? Why do they have less books and older supplies? Why do they all have to live in fear and keep their heads down? But things are changing. The Depression has started and people are longing for a change. Three of the men, including Stella's father, want to vote for that change and go to register. They pass their test on the Constitution and this brings consequences to the community. Stella can still see hope though in the way the people around her along with many of the white residents in her town come together to make things better for those who are hurt. Stella longs to put the things she is in the world around her into words like a true reporter if she could only find the right ones.

Stella is such a great heroine. She is smart, but struggles with writing and needs to work hard. She questions everything. Her enthusiasm to learn as much about life as she can is contagious. Her vulnerability and fear is heartbreaking. She is the sort of character who makes the reader feel all of her triumphs and defeats. The narrative is broken up with examples of Stella's writing, which she is trying desperately to improve, including all her mistakes and corrections. This is a brilliant move because it shows readers what a struggle good writing really is and how much work and thought goes into it. Revision is hard.

The story Stella is telling and living is a gripping one. This is a snapshot of one small community in one part of the country. I liked how Draper showed all the nuances of that community too. There are terrible small people living in her town. There are also generous helpful good-hearted people who know right from wrong.

Stella by Starlight is a wonderful and crucial addition to any library, classroom, and home. Buy it for the young readers in your life.

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