An Historically Rich, Emotionally Substantial Masterpiece!
Stella by Starlight
by Sharon M. Draper
Publication Date: January 6, 2015
Publisher: Atheneum Books For Young Readers
Sharon M. Draper’s Website
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When the Ku Klux Klan’s unwelcome reappearance rattles Stella’s segregated southern town, bravery battles prejudice in this Depression-era tour de force from Sharon Draper, the New York Times bestselling author of Out of My Mind.
Stella lives in the segregated South—in Bumblebee, North Carolina, to be exact about it. Some stores she can go into. Some stores she can’t. Some folks are right pleasant. Others are a lot less so. To Stella, it sort of evens out, and heck, the Klan hasn’t bothered them for years. But one late night, later than she should ever be up, much less wandering around outside, Stella and her little brother see something they’re never supposed to see, something that is the first flicker of change to come, unwelcome change by any stretch of the imagination. As Stella’s community—her world—is upended, she decides to fight fire with fire. And she learns that ashes don’t necessarily signify an end.
Each February, in honor of Black History Month, I make a point to read at least one book written by an African-American writer or written about something historically topical. I never regret it. I find the experience rewarding, fall in love with the pages I’ve turned, and wonder why I wait for the reminder and nudge that February brings to read more books like these. Stella by Starlight is no exception!
Sharon Draper wastes no time in introducing the reader to the frightening reality of the Ku Klux Klan. It’s 1932, in a small town called Bumblebee, North Carolina. Late one night, eleven-year-old Stella and her little brother JoJo see a flaming cross on the other side of the pond close to their home. Suddenly, life in their little town feels a lot more complicated and whole lot more dangerous.
Inspired by and informed by the stories and experiences of her father and paternal grandmother, Draper has written an historically rich, emotionally substantial masterpiece. Imbued with love and saturated with culture, Stella’s story serves as tribute to Draper’s grandmother, a testimonial to the African-American community, and a cautionary lesson from history to help guide those in the present toward building a better future.
The third-person narrative is supported by brief, interwoven bits of Stella’s own words. Though clever and sharp-witted, Stella struggles to put her ideas on paper. Writing is such a chore for her that she sneaks out at night to practice her writing where no one can see. I especially like Draper’s inclusion of Stella’s cross-outs as she corrects spelling and chooses words that more precisely communicate her thoughts and feelings. Over the course of their reading of the book, children who share Stella’s frustration with writing will see the fruits of her labors as they watch her skills improve.
Draper skillfully creates historical context without ever needing to resort to an info dump. We learn about things like Amelia Earhart, the Lindbergh baby, and the rise of Adolph Hitler, to name a few, through Stella’s collected newspaper clippings. Draper also expertly incorporates African-American culture into the fabric of her tale. Their Oral Tradition plays a large role, as does song. There are numerous occasions, including potlucks, church sermons, and school lessons where we witness how the tight-knit community uses storytelling, humor, and song to express both sorrow and joy. Draper has taken time and care to ensure that we know and love even the secondary characters. And, significantly, she has painted a picture so vivid and complete that the assembled community of Bumblebee becomes a major character unto itself.
As you witness segregation and prejudice as manifested in the lives of the inhabitants of Bumblebee, you’ll be astonished at how blind ignorance and hatred can be, and how deeply rooted. But you’ll also learn how strong, brave, and resilient a people can be. Whether you are laughing, crying, or singing along, the hours you spend with Stella and her family and friends will leave a lasting impression on your heart and soul.
— Dawn Teresa
5 of 5 Hearts. An Historically Rich, Emotionally Substantial Masterpiece!
Stella by Starlight is a testimonial to the African-American community, and a cautionary lesson from history to help guide those in the present toward building a better future. A highly recommended read for Black History Month or anytime!