Draper, Sharon M. 2015. Stella by Starlight. New York: Atheneum Books for Young Readers. ISBN 978-1-4424-9497-8
Eleven year old Stella lives in Bumblebee, North Carolina with her parents and her younger brother, Jojo. The year is 1932, and African Americans, including Stella and her family, are not welcome in many places. Stella and her brother attend a separate school and a separate church for "colored people." Her family and friends in Bumblebee are all very close and hardworking, but they are not respected or valued by many white members of the community.
After sneaking out one night, Stella and Jojo witness members of the Ku Klux Klan burning a cross. This group has not been active in her town for a long time, but their reappearance marks the beginning of many changes for her community. Stella's father and his friends are tired of feeling like second class citizens. Choices are made, and for some there are devastating repercussions. Throughout the turmoil her community is experiencing, Stella's bravery, strength, and resilience shine through. Her story is raw and honest, and it will leave its mark on your heart long after you've finished the last chapter.
Sharon M. Draper is a brilliant writer. This is obvious to anyone who has read her NY Times Best Seller Out of My Mind, or any of her five books that won the Coretta Scott King Award. Stella by Starlight is another example of how prolific she is. This story, which was inspired both by Draper's grandmother and father, is a realistic portrayal of what life was like in the South in 1932 for African Americans. She doesn't sugar coat it, which may make some scenes difficult to read. She does, however, bring an authenticity to the experience of so many African Americans during this time.
Her characters speak with a dialect that is true to that time and place. Stella's father and the other men of their community have strong work ethics, but racism is rampant, so their job opportunities are severely limited. Dr. Hawkins is the exception, however, he was treated very poorly while in medical school, and the white residents of Bumblebee would never go see him, regardless of how sick they were. The white children of the town wear shoes, and they go to a large school with brand new books and a beautiful track. Stella and her friends attend a small school with one room for grades 1-11, and the only books they have access to are the old, worn, and outdated ones the white school doesn't want anymore. They certainly don't have shoes to wear.
Draper is extremely honest when describing how many white people treated the African Americans in their town. From the way Stella's father and his friends were treated when they registered to vote, to the senseless violence Tony experienced, to the hateful reaction of Dr. Packard when Stella approached him, Draper picks up the readers and places them down right in North Carolina in the early twentieth century.
Though the times are harsh and unjust, Stella and her family are happy. They have a very tight bond, and truly love and respect one another. The members of their community would do anything to help each other, and they come together swiftly in both good times and bad. Stella herself is quite a remarkable character. She believes she is a terrible writer and average, at best, in all other areas. Her actions throughout the book, however, prove that she is anything but ordinary. Her quiet strength and bravery during difficult situations and her beautiful way with words make her one of my new favorite literary heroines. Readers will surely appreciate the kind of person Stella is and will likely aspire to have her courage.
From KIRKUS REVIEWS - "When a young girl gains confidence from her failures and strength from what her community dreads most, life delivers magic and hope...Draper expertly creates a character filled with hope, dreams and ambition in a time when such traits were dangerous for a girl of color. While the use of language honors the time period, the author is careful to avoid the phonetic quagmire that ensnares lesser writers of the period, allowing the colorful idioms to shine."
From PUBLISHERS WEEKLY - "This compelling story brims with courage, compassion, creativity, and resilience."
From SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL - "This is an engrossing historical fiction novel with an amiable and humble heroine who does not recognize her own bravery or the power of her words. She provides inspiration not only to her fellow characters but also to readers who will relate to her and her situation. Storytelling at its finest."
Have your students choose another book by Sharon M. Draper to read. To view her catalog of work, click on this link.
Ask your students to put themselves in Stella's shoes. Have them write a journal entry from her perspective. They can choose which event from the story they would like to write about.
Share the following video of the author discussing Stella by Starlight with your students.
Talk with your students about racism. Share examples from the book. Then, ask your students if they think racism still exists today and discuss their thoughts.
Paulette Packard is a very interesting character. Ask your students to write about whether they think her life was better or worse than Stella's. Make sure they support their writing with examples from the book.