Sunday, March 15, 2015
Stella by Starlight by Sharon M. Draper
Stella has been sneaking out at night after everyone's in bed to practice her writing. Writing is the one area in school where she just doesn't do well, and her notebook full of half written assignments is witness to her struggles.
After telling their parents what they saw, it doesn't take long before word about the Klan to spread throughout the whole African American community. When her teacher suggests that Stella write about what she witnessed, she is too scared to do that. But Stella has the eye and soul of a writer, astutely noting things all around her. She is aware of the differences between the modern, well built white school and the shabbly school she attends where 35 students in all grades crowd into one room with one teacher and only one wood burning stove to keep them warm. And she is painfully aware that she is not allowed to use the library even though she is dying to read books about different interesting things.
But times are also changing. Stella's father reads three newspapers a day, complaining that the while country is tired of President Hoover and the depression, and that maybe Franklin D. Roosevelt would do a better job. In church one Sunday, the minister announces he will be registering to vote** the next day and invites other men in the congration to join him, Stella's father and a neighbor decided it is time to do the same.
Stella is taken along to witness the registeration process and it is a long, ugly tedious one, but typlical of what went on in those days - including a long, copious exam, a $2.00 fee, and a standoff with the sheiff at the registration office. There are cruel consequences for the men's decision to register to vote later, but for Stella those consequences meant coming into possession of a typewriter and finding her voice.
Written from Stella's point of view, Stella by Starlight is a realistic portrait of a small community of African Americans, some of whom still remember slavery, who live isolated from the white world of Bumblebee, where they earn little for working longer and harder, and where they are forced to quietly accept the hate, taunts and mistreatment by most white people. But it is also a rich community that is seeped in tradition, stories, love and compassion for one another, relying on each other through good times and bad.
It is also the narrative of a young storyteller finding her voice. Stella may have difficulty writing her school essays, but throughout Stella by Starlight are sample of her writing and the reader sees her developemnt from start to finish and knows that eventaully she will grow up and write about the events she witnesses and people she knows.
One of the things I really liked was the way Draper has Stella's mother talking about how knowledge and know-how are handed down from mother to daughter, generation after generation. It really gives the story a sence of being connected to one's past.
I could have lived with fewer homespun stories and fewer song lyrics. I thought it took away from the main story too much, and I'm not sure if young readers would be very receptive to it or just think its tto boring and end up putting the book down. I hope not.
While I really enjoyed Stella by Starlight as a wonderful work of historic fiction, I enjoy seeing Stella's development as a writer even more. It occured to me that it would make a wonderful companion book to Jacqueline Woodson's Brown Girl Dreaming. Both are about formation childhood years of developing writers, one fiction, one nonfiction. Just think of the teaching possibilies!
This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was borrowed from the NYPL
**I wonder how many know or remember that African American men were give the right to vote with the ratification of the 15th Amendment to the Constitution on February 3, 1870.
Marvelous Middle Grade Monday is a weekly meme hosted by Shannon Messenger at Books, Ramblings and Plenty of Shenanigans