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Tenacious girl braves Klan in ‘Stella by Starlight’

Have you ever wanted to do something big — but you didn’t know how?

You struggled. You practiced. You tried and tried and tried until finally, you saw where you went wrong and where you went right. Aha! That’s when you realized that whatever you wanted to do — you could!

It might have been a small action, and it might’ve been something great, but never giving up was the way to go. In the new book “Stella by Starlight” by Sharon M. Draper, for instance, a young girl wanted to become a writer. Her daddy wanted to vote.

Fire can be a good thing. It can bring warm rooms and hot meals — but when Stella Mills saw the sparks from across Kilkenny Pond that night in 1932, she knew there was nothing good about that fire or the nine hooded men surrounding it. Quickly, she and her brother ran to wake their parents because they knew that everybody in their neighborhood was in danger when the Klan was about.

Normally, life in Bumblebee, N.C., was a safe place for Stella and her friends. Yes, it was true that there were places they couldn’t go because they weren’t white and no, their blacks-only school wasn’t nearly as nice as the whites-only school, but Stella loved her schoolmates and neighbors because they always watched out for one another. When one lacked, the others shared, and that made her proud.

But the Klan was another matter, and every black person in Bumblebee knew it. Even Stella’s teacher, Mrs. Grayson, understood the seriousness of what was happening, and she tried to keep her students calm and safe by distracting them with writing and with stories. Stella loved stories, and she loved writing but she didn’t think she was any good at either of them.

That would change, though, when her friend Tony told her to write what she knew — and so Stella did. She wrote about the Klan and their dragons; about airplanes and books and grown men making boys bleed. She wrote about gifts, her father’s reason for celebration and the courage it took to stand up for your rights.

Yep. I loved “Stella by Starlight,” and there are many reasons why.

Its authenticity is at the top of the list. Draper gives this story a historical basis, yet she keeps it fictional so young readers can understand and identify with the characters.

Those characters are second on the list: I loved Stella! She’s sunny and smart, and her determination will make it easy for your child to want to know what happens to her and her family.

I also liked the way Draper lends child-friendly, not-too-detailed, not-too-scary action in this chapter book, and the anti-racism theme really struck me as timely.

And then there’s the… well, I could go on and on but let’s just say that this is the perfect book for a 7- to 12-year-old reader who enjoys a good historical novel. For that kid, “Stella by Starlight” is a book she’ll want.

View publishes Terri Schlichenmeyer’s reviews of books for children and teens weekly.

 

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