Stella in Stella by Starlight written by Sharon M. Draper and her family have friends and neighbors that I would love to have be my friends and neighbors. Stella is a 5th grade African American girl living in North Carolina in 1932, during the time of a segregated south. It’s a confusing and hard time for an African American to be growing up. A time when a young girl notices that she does not go to the same school as other kids her age that have white skin. She notices that the white school is in a nice brick building where the school for the black children is a one room building for all grades with old and used furniture and teaching materials. But at the candy store the store owner will sneak the same pieces of candy to each child no matter what their skin color. Some white people are friendly and kind and others are not. The white people vote while her people are encouraged not to vote. The Ku Klux Klan is a presence in the community and brings with it fear and anger and courage. Stella must learn how she will deal with these challenges that she is faced with. Will she live with fear? Will she be angry with the way some people treat her small black community? Will she have courage to help others when answers aren’t clearly there?
This is a book about race and how black communities were treated in the 1930’s but I also thought it was a book about the importance of community. I loved how the community would come together to help one another. The neighbors in the black community did not have much, but when something was needed they would each bring what little they could and all of that together would be enough. They encouraged and supported one another even though there was fear in that support. Would the Ku Klux Klan come after their family because they supported and helped someone in the aftermath of a Klan attack? But the desire to support and help would overcome the fear. The community would also get together and have fun. One evening they got together for a neighborhood dinner. After the dinner the adults sat and joked around. “… remember last summer when it got so hot we had to feed the chickens ice water to keep them from laying hard boiled eggs?” I could easily picture myself sitting on a step or log outside listening to the adults joking around as they talked.
While I really loved the sense of community and learning to live with the challenges you are faced with I did struggle with one part of the book. I really didn’t feel like the dialog between the children was authentic. I just don’t know a 5th grade boy who would tell a 5th grade girl, “Words fall out of the sky like leaves, girl. Grab a couple and write ‘em down.”
I did enjoy Stella by Starlight and think it is a great book for a middle grade reader and up. I think the middle grade reader will learn from a story that shows challenges faced in a time so different from now. A time not only of living with racism but also a time when there weren’t very many cars and doing something so simple as preparing a meal was a lot harder. Yet some of the struggles Stella has are struggles that kids face still today like fearing for the safety of your family, struggling with a subject in school and finding things you are good at.
Have you read Stella in Starlight? Did the way the children talked bother you? What did you love about the book? Communities coming together was what I loved the most about this book. Do you have any recommendations of other books about communities coming together?