Stella by Starlight
Juvenile historical fiction
Imagine you're an 11-year-old black girl living in rural North
Carolina. The year is 1932. It's the middle of the night. You and
your little brother are standing by a pond, chilled by the bone and
not just from the night air. Across the pond you see a burning cross
surrounded by nine figures in white KKK hoods and robes.
That's the scene with which Sharon Draper opens Stella by
Starlight. From the first chapter on the tension is tangible. The
Klan is making its presence felt after a relatively long period of
silence. Could this have anything to do with the upcoming elections?
"'Now you know they don't want us to votin''," Spoon Man chided,
tipping his chair back on two legs. 'Maybe that's why they all of a
sudden wearin' the bedsheets off their clotheslines again.'
'Look, I'm not lookin' for trouble. I just think I ought to be
able to vote,' her father said evenly."
When Stella's father and two of his friends do register to vote
they are told to be on the lookout for trouble because it's on the
way. Sure enough one of the men, the father of 13 children, has his
house torched. The election is coming closer. And all three men are
determined to cast their ballots.
Along with the suspense, there are other layers to the story.
There's the resilience and loyalty of a community that pulls together
through thick and thin. Together they try valiently to put out the
fire and then acquire for the large burnt out family what they need to
survive. (Remember there's no Red Cross or other agency to help out
and the other families are just barely getting by.) They also know how
to get together spontaneously when there are good times to be had. In
one of the most wonderful parts of the book a traveling salesman and
story teller, Spoon Man arrives, bearing not only merchandise, but
news of far off friends and family and entertainment. Stella and
brother Jojo are sent out to invite neighbors to a pot luck, an event
all plunge into in a spirit of joyous anticipation.
And then there is Stella, a child most of us can relate to. She
loves stories but struggles to put her thoughts down on paper. After
one essay she gets a bad grade on she fears that her teacher will stop
by a talk with her mother. She is thrilled when her mother buys her
her very first bracelet the night of Spoon Man's visit.
This is a really good introduction to the ugly face of prejudice
for our younger children. It should by now be a thing of the past.
But it sticks around. When white police officers get away with
shooting unarmed black men and boys and black students are much more
likely than white peers to be suspended or expelled from school or
even jailed you know we aren't as far as we should be. Add in the
surge in neo Nazism, the profiling of anyone who looks remotely
Islamic, the religious freedom laws which try to keep people from
having to serve the LGBT community...when will we ever learn?
On a personal note, I'm one of the school committee members on a
principal search committee. Mr. Scott Nichols is resigning after 23
years. So we're in the process so that hopefully the best woman or
A great big shout out goes out to the committee, our candidates, and
the children, teachers, and staff who will go through a hopefully not
too turbulant transition.
Julia Emily Hathaway
Sent from my iPod