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Keeping Safe the Stars



Gripping story of three sibs fending for themselves in 1974.

What parents need to know

Educational value

Besides telling a good story, author Sheila O'Connor brings to life the era of Watergate and Nixon, offering a realistic, age-appropriate sense of the times, including hippies, communes, and opposition to the Vietnam War. There's plenty of incidental learning, too, on topics from the kids' homeschool lessons to French Impressionism. Also, the kids' grandfather, a retired professor, has named his animals Scout, Atticus, and Woody Guthrie; young readers who know the references will be tickled, and others may be intrigued enough to find out more about the animals' namesakes.

Positive messages

In addition to celebrating family bonds in the face of adversity, there are lessons here about neighborliness and the kindness of strangers, not to mention the importance of swallowing your pride and asking for help when you need it. The kids' ingenuity, tenacity, and problem-solving skills all play important roles.

Positive role models

Pride is determined to do a good job as de facto head of the family until she can get everyone back together. She often makes choices that don't turn out as planned and is guilt-stricken at all the lies she tells adults to keep her siblings safe; she's also conflicted about reading old letters written to her grandfather, torn between the privacy violation and the fact that the correspondence might reveal a solution to their problems. Several adults -- including the kids' late mother, their grandfather and his neighbors, and some of the strangers they meet -- show kindness, resourcefulness, and good sense  and also learn from one another. The kids also experience adults behaving badly, including those who don't pay the kids for the souvenirs and pony rides they start selling to support themselves.


The kids' mother has died in an auto accident; the Vietnam War is happening in the background of this story, and some characters oppose it.

Not applicable
Not applicable

Some  foods of the '70s, e.g. Sugar Smacks, are mentioned by name. The kids take a Greyhound bus.

Drinking, drugs, & smoking
Not applicable

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that Keeping Safe the Stars, set in 1974, is an inspiring and hair-raising tale of three orphaned kids, the Stars, fending for themselves after their only caretaker, their grandfather, falls ill and is taken to the hospital. Without adult supervision, 13-year-old Pride, 11-year-old Nightingale, and 6-year-old Baby prove determined and ingenious in finding clever ways to support themselves while convincing the outside world that everything's normal so they don't get carted off to the foster care system. Many things don't go as planned, and Pride horrifies even herself at the lies she makes up. But, through some unlikely connections, as their tale unfolds against the backdrop of Nixon's resignation, the little family stays strong.

Parents say

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What's the story?

It's 1974, and Kathleen (13), Elise (11), and Baxter (6) Star -- known by their late mother's pet names of Pride, Nightingale, and Baby -- know all about keeping a low profile for the outside world. They lived happily on a commune with their parents until their dad died of cancer, their mother was killed in a car accident, and they were swept into the social services system. Then their grandfather arrives and takes them to his farm in Minnesota, where he's been living as something of a hermit; they all live happily until he falls ill and is taken to the hospital. Suddenly the kids have to fend for themselves and keep from attracting the authorities' attention, as they're determined never to go into the system or let anyone split them up. Various adults enter the picture, bringing complications with them. Narrated by Pride, this tale of intrepid kids dealing with challenges they don't really understand is heartwarming, funny, and full of positive life lessons.

Is it any good?


Author Sheila O'Connor's usual compelling writing, interesting characters, and deft touch with relationships are much in evidence here. Three resourceful kids deal with their own differences and the challenges of the adult world in their efforts to keep their family together. Along the way, the Watergate scandal and  Nixon's resignation -- as well as various adult views of the situation -- come to light as part of the backdrop against which the kids' adventures unfold.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about the Watergate era and what kids learn about it today. Does Keeping Safe the Stars give you a good idea of the mood of the country at that time and what people worried about?

  • Have you read any other books in which kids suddenly have to take care of themselves? Why do you think this is a popular theme?

  • What does it tell you about a character that he names his animals Scout, Atticus, and Woody Guthrie? Can you identify where these names came from? 

  • From Pride's description of life on the commune, do you think you would have liked living there?

Book details

Author:Sheila O'Connor
Genre:Coming of Age
Topics:Brothers and sisters, Friendship, History, Horses and farm animals, Misfits and underdogs
Book type:Fiction
Publisher:G.P. Putnam's Sons
Publication date:October 11, 2012
Number of pages:304
Publisher's recommended age(s):10 - 17
Available on:Nook, Hardback, iBooks, Kindle

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Teen, 14 years old Written byBritney russell April 30, 2015


This book is really touching to me. I though it was really special to a lot of people once they realize what Pride has done for her family. i would encourage everyone to read this book.
What other families should know
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Great role models


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