by Carol Renca
Inspired by her grandmother’s memoirs and dedicated to her beloved father, writer Sharon Draper’s latest novel, Stella by Starlight, is a powerful story for early middle school youth. Set in Bumblebee, North Carolina 1932, amid a segregated community filled with prejudice and indifference, eleven year old Stella Mills begins to discover the courage emerging from her inner heart. The novel opens with a gripping scene as Stella and her brother Jojo hide while watching flames in the dark night sky. Nine robed Ku Klux Klan members have gathered for a cross burning near their close knit community. Stella and Jojo are terrified of being discovered. Her father and others in their neighborhood have been emboldened to vote in the next presidential election and there are those in town who are planning to stop it. Stella knows that this meeting of the KKK means trouble for her family and friends and she must warn them.
This engaging first chapter will draw middle school readers into the story right away. As Stella tries to understand the prejudicial “unwritten rules” and dangers of living in a racially divided South, she is also determined to rescue those she loves from harm. Throughout the novel, Stella struggles with and uses the art of writing as a means of unraveling her inner thoughts. Just as author Sharon Draper and her grandmother have crafted stories to reveal truths, Stella dares to write about the intimidation symbol of KKK for a local writing competition. She cleverly titled her piece Slaying Dragons, and boldly submitted it.
Stella by Starlight is a story that informs youth about extreme prejudice and the violent practices against African-Americans historically in the United States. It provides cultural awareness and a context for many of the racial challenges that we face today and can be a great book for discussion. Additionally, it is a story that speaks directly to youth with universal themes of hope, resolve and compassion and can provide a sense of empowerment in an adult world.
- Carole Renca, Edmunds Middle School Teacher-Librarian, Burlington, Vermont