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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Stella by Starlight, by award-winning author Sharon M. Draper (Out of My Mind), deals with life in the segregated South of 1932, as seen by a bright young 11-year-old girl growing up African-American in Bumblebee, North Carolina. Violence looms, in the form of fatal on-the-job "accidents" and Klan arson, as well as young Stella's memories of the town's white doctor hitting her 5-year-old self as hard as he could because she got a bit of mud on his shoe. But the violence is overshadowed by the love, courage, and resourcefulness of the community, and support often comes from unlikely quarters. Set in the days leading up to Franklin D. Roosevelt's election, it's a relatable, inspiring tale likely to spark intriguing discussions.
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What's the story?
It's 1932 in the segregated South -- Bumblebee, North Carolina, to be exact, where 11-year-old Stella is growing up poor, smart, and African-American in a loving family. Life is mostly peaceful, but deadly violence is only as far away as the next Klan rally, when the local bigots decide that Bumblebee's black people need scaring. In this constantly oppressive climate, the adults of Stella's community struggle and sacrifice to give their kids a better future, often accepting shockingly bad treatment to keep the peace and their jobs. Then Stella and her younger brother (who's on a late-night trip to the outhouse) see a fire burning across the river. It's a Klan rally, clearly designed to scare them -- which gets an unexpected response from the community's pastor.
Is it any good?
STELLA BY STARLIGHT is a compelling, relatable story inspired by the author's memories of her own grandmother's childhood tales. It deftly brings home the perilous realities defining African-American life in the rural, segregated South, from the Ku Klux Klan burning down the house of an African-American family whose father had just registered to vote to the thousand daily slights and insults. But, against that ominous backdrop, Stella's family and neighbors stand strong, held together by faith, hope, charity, and a lot of courage. Most modern-day kids will be startled by details Stella takes for granted, not only that she and the other African-American kids can't go to the white school (which, of course, has much better facilities) but that they all go to school barefoot because they don't own shoes.
Stella by Starlight (the same title as the jazz standard, written in 1944) is an appealing, thought-provoking read for kids and adults -- and a standout for introducing kids to a difficult chapter in U.S. history with compelling courage and relatable characters rather than graphic violence. Expect interesting conversations.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about racism's role in U.S. history. Why do you think it ever became an issue? Do you see examples of it in the world around you? What do you think you can do about it yourself?
What do you know about the history of civil rights in the United States? Why do you think African-Americans registering to vote was such a big deal in the 20th century?
Have you read any other books or heard other stories about characters living in a society where one's rights depend on skin color or something else that can't be changed? How does the limitation affect their lives? What do they do about it?
- Author: Sharon M. Draper
- Genre: Historical Fiction
- Topics: Brothers and Sisters, Friendship, Great Girl Role Models, History
- Book type: Fiction
- Publisher: Atheneum
- Publication date: January 6, 2015
- Publisher's recommended age(s): 9 - 13
- Number of pages: 336
- Available on: Nook, Audiobook (unabridged), Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
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