Stella by
Starlight

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Intro, Summary & General Questions


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STELLA BY STARLIGHT
In the middle of fifth grade, the girl who would grow up to be my Grandma Estelle, was forced to leave school forever so she could help on the family farm. It broke her heart, but not her spirit. No one knew it at the time, but she would sneak out each night after everyone was asleep, and write in a journal she kept hidden under the steps.

Many, many years later, when she was a grandmother, and it was I who was in the fifth grade, she told me her secret. We used to spend summers with her in North Carolina—in the same house my dad grew up in. Roosters crowed at dawn. Our breakfast milk came warm from the cow, our eggs fresh from the chicken’s nests. I remember hot apple pie, cold watermelon slices, and sugar sweet tea. And the stories. After the sun faded into darkness, and fireflies blinked in the yard, everyone would gather on Grandma Estelle’s porch and listen to the old folks tell tales—funny memories, harsh realities, family treasures, and sometimes big fat whoppers.

It was here that the fictional town of Bumblebee, North Carolina was born. Based loosely on the real community, it was a place where families depended on each other for support. Celebrations, funerals, difficulties and triumphs were all shared because they were more than neighbors—they were like family to each other.

When my grandmother passed away in 1983, I was given the only one of her journals that survived—it is one of my greatest treasures. Grandma Estelle, at age ten, could not know it, but she would become my muse, my spirit guide--to write and create and dream. She is my Stella by Starlight.

Dedication

This book is dedicated to my father, Vick D. Mills.
He is my hero and will forever have my heart.
I promised him so long ago that I would write this story.
I wrote this for you, Daddy.
I’m sorry it took so long.

As a boy, he walked those dusty North Carolina roads, exulted in the beauty of the land, and basked in the love of his mother, Estelle.
He feasted on her homegrown, home-cooked meals, as well as her wisdom.
He also listened to the stories of the elders, grew strong from the love of family and community, and learned to face with dignity the sometimes harsh realities of life.

So this book is also dedicated to my grandmother, Estelle Twitty Mills Davis.
She lived from 1905 to 1983.
She, too, listened to the elders and learned to survive pain.
Her life was not always easy, and she struggled with many things.
But she loved her children and she passed her strength along to them.
And she kept her memories in that journal.

So this is Estelle’s tale and Vick’s tale combined.
It is a gift of love.

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Reviews & Awards

Reviews:
STELLA BY STARLIGHT [STARRED REVIEW from KIRKUS!]
Author: Sharon M. Draper

Review Issue Date: November 15, 2014
Online Publish Date: November 4, 2014
Publisher:Atheneum
Pages: 288
Price ( Hardcover ): $16.99
Publication Date: January 6, 2015
ISBN ( Hardcover ): 978-1-4424-9497-8
Category: Fiction


When a young girl gains confidence from her failures and strength from what her community dreads most, life delivers magic and hope. Stella Mills and her brother Jojo witness the Ku Klux Klan burning a cross late one starry night, setting off a chain reaction that leaves their entire community changed. During the Depression, North Carolina was less than hospitable for African-Americans forced to work more to earn less while being deprived of basic human rights. Through the perspective of Stella, young readers glimpse the nearly suffocating anguish that envelops this black community, illuminating the feelings associated with suppression. In a telling passage, Stella's mother attempts to comfort her: " 'It's gonna be all right,' her mother whispered as she smoothed down Stella's hair. But Stella felt the tension in her mother's arms, and she knew that in reality, fear hugged them both." 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. A tale of the Jim Crow South that's not sugar-coated but effective, with a trustworthy narrator who opens her heart and readers' eyes. (Historical fiction. 9-13)



THE FOLLOWING BOOK RECEIVED ITS SECOND STARRED REVIEW IN THE NOVEMBER 24, 2014 ISSUE OF PUBLISHERS WEEKLY:

STELLA BY STARLIGHT
By Sharon Draper
(Atheneum; ISBN 9781442494978; January 2015; Spring catalog)

"This compelling story brims with courage, compassion, creativity, and resilience."
- Publisher’s Weekly
After 11-year-old Stella and her brother witness late-night Ku Klux Klan activity, word spreads through their North Carolina town. It’s 1932, and every “Negro family in Bumblebee knew the unwritten rules—they had to take care of their own problems and take care of one another.” Draper (Panic) conveys a rich African-American community where life carries on and knowledge is passed along (“My mama taught me. I’m teachin’ you. You will teach your daughter”), despite looming threats. While in town, Stella notes the white children’s fine school building and speculates about who might be Klansmen; in her parents’ backyard, spontaneous potluck celebrations chase away gloom as adults trade tall tales: “remember last summer when it got so hot we had to feed the chickens ice water to keep them from laying hard-boiled eggs?” Stella’s desire to become a writer parallels her father’s determination to vote. In a powerful scene, the entire black community accompanies three registered black voters to the polling location and waits silently, “Ten. Fifteen. Twenty-five minutes,” until the sheriff steps aside. This compelling story brims with courage, compassion, creativity, and resilience.



Stella by Starlight Great Review from THE HORN BOOK
by Sharon M. Draper
Intermediate Atheneum 324 pp.
1/15 978-1-4424-9497-8 $16.99 g
e-book ed. 978-1-4424-9499-2 $10.99

Eleven-year-old Stella Mills may have trouble getting words on paper for school, but she’s a deep thinker, “a gemstone hiding inside a rock,” her mother tells her. Even on the coldest of nights, she sneaks out of the house and writes under the starlight. Writing helps her makes sense of her world; the novel’s third-person point of view provides readers with a perspective wider than young Stella’s, as much of life in segregated 1932 Bumblebee, North Carolina, is beyond her understanding. There’s plenty of action—cross burnings, house burnings, a snakebite, a near-drowning, and a beating. But at its core this story is one of a supportive African American community facing tough times, a community acting as an “unseen river of communication that forever flows—dark and powerful,” keeping an eye on its children as they walk to school, knowing who is sneaking out at night, bringing cakes and pies when folks are ill, and attending the (unexpectedly hilarious) Christmas pageant at school. If times are bad, the community makes them better, and Stella grows in its warmth and love. Even her writing gets better as she writes about things that matter—Mama, snakes, truth, hate, even the Klan. Readers will close the book knowing that Stella will turn out just fine: “Roosters never look beyond the fence. I doubt if they ever think about flying. But I do.” -Dean Schneider.



THIS IS THE SOUND OF COURAGE
Interview by Linda M. Castellitto — BookPage

Thanks to a smart-alecky student who sat in the back row of her classroom, Sharon M. Draper went from teacher to award-winning writer. Of course, there were other factors: a lifelong love of reading, plus years of hard work and outstanding scholarship, for starters.

But as Draper tells BookPage from her Cincinnati home, that student’s challenge—“Why don’t you write something?”—led her to an entirely new career.

Sharon Draper
Further inspired after winning an Ebony magazine short-story contest and receiving a lovely letter from author Alex Haley, Draper began writing longhand while she served as a study-hall monitor. “I got 24 rejection letters in a row,” she recalls. “And the very last letter was a ‘yes’ from Simon & Schuster.”

It’s been 20 years and 25 books since that yes for 1994’s Tears of a Tiger, which won Draper her first Coretta Scott King Award. Since then, her accolades have been many: National Teacher of the Year, five-time Coretta Scott King Award winner and New York Times best-selling author. She’s been honored at the White House no fewer than six times.

Draper, who retired from teaching in 2000 to write full time and to speak at schools, book festivals and other events, takes readers to 1932 North Carolina in her new novel, Stella by Starlight.

Ten-year-old Stella, her parents and her brother Jojo live in Bumblebee, a tiny town united by hardscrabble life in the Jim Crow South. There’s love and laughter, but, Stella observes, “Every Negro family in Bumblebee knew the unwritten rules—they had to take care of their own problems and take care of one another. Help from the white community was neither expected nor considered. It was as it always had been.”

One night, Stella and Jojo realize it’s not just the bright stars that are casting a glow outside; the Ku Klux Klan is burning a wooden cross, sending an eerie red light flickering through the trees. Draper skillfully builds suspense around this frightening event and subsequent unrest which, while handled peacefully by the black community, is still dangerous to them and the few white townspeople who aren’t racist. Even a visit to the candy store is layered with risk and tension. Draper offers comic relief through schoolhouse scenes and an accidentally hilarious school play.

Sharon Draper
Although Stella by Starlight is fiction, Draper drew inspiration from her own family’s story. “The timing falls within my father’s childhood, but I wanted the main character to be based roughly on my grandmother . . . [who] used to go outside at night and write in her journal. All of them were lost except one; she gave it to my father just before she passed away. He gave it to me and said, ‘I want you to write my mother’s story.’ ”

And so, like Draper’s grandmother, Stella is bright and hungry to learn. She asks lots of questions, papers her walls with newspaper articles and eagerly listens while the grown-ups talk—which Draper loved to do during her own childhood visits to North Carolina.

“Sitting on the front porch at my grandmother’s, I wasn’t taking notes to write a book as a 10-year-old, but I was absorbing things about these people,” Draper says. “Everybody was different at night. They worked all day in the fields, no cushy office jobs. At night, they were telling stories, relaxed, and could be themselves. . . . When it came time to write the book, the rhythms of their voices were what started it and triggered my memories.”

Draper is curious to see how Stella by Starlight resonates with young readers. “I have grandchildren this age, and they really don’t think much beyond yesterday,” she says. “To go way back and ask them to care about a child who lived in 1932 is asking them to take a journey.”

If anyone can get kids to take that journey, Draper can. Through Stella’s eyes, readers learn about societal and political issues from 1932 that, alas, are still relevant today.

Universal themes, important lessons, plus some fun—it’s very teacherly, isn’t it? That’s inevitable, as being a teacher is part of Draper’s identity: “Wherever I go, I teach . . . not from a script, not by rote. I speak from the heart.”



THE FOLLOWING BOOK RECEIVED ITS THIRD STARRED REVIEW IN THE JANUARY 2015 ISSUE OF SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL:

STELLA BY STARLIGHT
By Sharon Draper
(Atheneum; ISBN 9781442494978; January 2015; Spring 2015 catalog)

Coretta Scott King Award winner Draper draws inspiration from her grandmother’s journal to tell the absorbing story of a young girl growing up in Depression-era, segregated North Carolina. One frightening night Stella and her brother Jojo witness a meeting of the Ku Klux Klan, practically in their own backyard. This meeting is the signal of trouble to come to the black community of Bumblebee. The townspeople must come together to find strength and protection to face the injustices all around them. 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.



THE FOLLOWING BOOK RECEIVED ITS FOURTH STARRED REVIEW IN THE JANUARY 13, 2015 ISSUE OF SHELF AWARENESS FOR READERS::

STELLA BY STARLIGHT
By Sharon Draper
(Atheneum; ISBN 9781442494978; January 2015; Spring 2015 catalog)

Sharon Draper (Out of My Mind) sets her suspenseful, hope-filled story in a small segregated North Carolina town at the time of the 1932 presidential election between Herbert Hoover and Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

In the opening scene, 11-year-old Stella and her eight-year-old brother, Jojo, witness a wooden cross burning on the other side of Kilkenny Pond. "Nine robed figures dressed all in white. Heads covered with softly pointed hoods," the author begins. "Who are they?" Jojo asks. " 'The Klan.' Just saying those words made Stella's lip quiver." Draper gives young readers enough information to place the events in context. The threat is real, but the love and safety Stella finds with her family and the warm community on her side of Bumblebee, N.C., provides the antidote. The KKK, dormant for roughly three years, is showing itself because of the upcoming election. Only Stella's father, Pastor Patton and Mr. Spencer are brave enough to register to vote. And when the KKK strikes back by burning down the Spencers' home, the entire community comes to their aid--including a few white families.

Draper balances the larger cultural forces at play with the daily routines of doing chores, attending school and going to church. The author shows Stella's maturity and strength as she comes through again and again for her family and her neighbors. At the same time, Stella crafts her writing, alone and in private, trying to improve and also as a way to air her fears. Her sense of honesty and justice make her a child with whom all readers can identify. -- Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: A suspenseful, hope-filled story of a courageous 11-year-old in a racially divided town on the eve of the 1932 election.

STELLA BY STARLIGHT also received a starred review in the following:
Kirkus Reviews, November 15, 2014
Publishers Weekly, November 24, 2014
School Library Journal, January 1, 2015



NEW YORK TIMES SUNDAY BOOK REVIEW!! 2/6/2015
Childhood may be the easiest time to go to bed as one person and wake up feeling like someone else. In two new middle-¬grade novels, young heroines discover that adults are not always truthful, and that the world is more dangerous than anyone has been letting on. They’re life-¬changing realizations, for sure, and in both books they present an opportunity to find a moral compass.

Inspired by the journal of her grandmother, who had to leave school in fifth grade to help on the family farm, Sharon M. Draper, the author of many young adult books, including “Out of My Mind,” sets “Stella by Starlight” in the South of the early 1930s. The line of segregation cuts through all aspects of life in Bumblebee, N.C., from inequitable schooling to inadequate health care to the denial of voting rights.

At the center of the novel is a young story¬teller named Stella Mills, who ventures outside at night to write, wrestling words onto the pages of her secret notebook. Stella, who is African-American, witnesses a frightening event involving the Ku Klux Klan. Draper conveys a full, rich picture of Stella’s world, beginning with the importance of religion in the fabric of a rural, black Southern community. After decades of injustice and terror under Jim Crow laws, it is the local pastor who encourages his flock to stand up and be counted. “I will be at the voter registration office at 9 a.m. when it opens,” he tells the congregation. “Anybody who wants to come with me is welcome. I am a man. Amen. Amen.”

Stella is at her father’s side when he makes the trip. While she has gotten a front-row view of prejudice, she has the common sense to do the right thing later, becoming the unlikely savior of the daughter of the town’s chief bigot.

Poisonous snakes hide in tall grass in bright sunlight, and deadly creatures on two feet put on white cloaks and burn crosses in the night. An eagle can be seen in the blue sky of day, but also in the form of a brave 11-year-old African-American boy, an aspiring Olympian, who runs in the dark on the track of the off-limits white high school. Yet it’s not single acts of heroism but the solidarity of the community, people’s ability to come together both in times of need and to celebrate occasions for joy, that is most moving and inspiring. In honoring those like Stella and her family who went before us, Draper has written a novel that soars.



From the Pittsburgh Gazette
STELLA BY STARLIGHT
By Sharon M. Draper
320 pp. Atheneum Books. $16.99. (Middle grade; ages 9 to 13)

Children’s Books: Sharon Draper talks about her new book
In January, librarians, teachers and children as young as 8 packed a Chapel Hill bookstore to hear Sharon Draper speak about her newest novel, “Stella by Starlight” (Atheneum, ages 9-12).

Draper, winner of the Coretta Scott King and National Teacher of the Year awards in 1997, has written books for all ages – the Sassy series starring a feisty fourth-grader (Scholastic, ages 7-9), Clubhouse Mystery books in which four fifth-grade African-American boys explore history and mystery (Aladdin, ages 9 and up), as well as hard-hitting teen novels like “Forged by Fire” (Atheneum, ages 12 and up).

Draper described her awe at learning her 2010 title, “Out of My Mind” (Atheneum, ages 10 and up) had been selected for the “Time Magazine” List of “100 Best Children’s Books of All Time”. “Out of My Mind,” a book that received four starred reviews, is a first-person narrative told by Melody Brooks, whose peers (and some teachers) see her cerebral palsy instead of her brilliance. Tremendously proud of this important book, Draper also found its success intimidating and her writing stalled.

She wrote “Stella by Starlight” after constant nudging by her father who asked, “Did you write my mother’s book yet?” He referred to her Grandmother Estelle’s pencil-scrawled journal. Estelle, a devoted learner who had to leave school to help her family, often wrote in the moonlight. Draper received the hardcover of her book after returning from her father’s funeral as it was “a gift from him.”

The heroine, based on Draper’s grandmother, is 11-year-old Stella. The story begins as she sneaks out of the house one night and sees “Nine robed figures dressed all in white. Heads covered with softly pointed hoods.” This lyrical tension continues as reflections of a burning cross’ “peppery-red flames” shimmer on the pond. Stella waits in crunching “traitorous leaves” before dashing off to warn the adults of the Klan’s appearance.

The threat of the Klan is a major thread in the story, but the book is as much about a young girl’s struggles with school work, a scary encounter with a snake and the family warmth that nurtures her. Strong imagery makes the fictional setting of Bumblebee, N.C., real. The setting is based on Union Mills, N.C., where Draper’s grandmother grew up, a place she often visited as a child. Draper remembered the humor and wit of late-night storytelling and in the book this conveys the strength that families needed in 1932 when “they had to take care of their own problems and take care of one another.”

Nearing the end of the evening, an eager young girl was called out of the audience because her ride home had arrived. She rose reluctantly, her book still unsigned. Draper stopped midsentence and signed it. By then we’d all come to see Draper’s playfulness, compassion and dedication and cheered. I cheered again Feb. 2, when Draper won the 2015 Margaret A. Edwards Award for lifetime achievement in writing for young adults.

Read more here: http://www.newsobserver.com/2015/02/21/4570147_childrens-books-sharon-draper.html?rh=1#storylink=cpy.

From the Fresno Bee

“"Stella by Starlight" is an appealing, thought-provoking read for kids and adults - and a standout for introducing kids to a difficult chapter in U.S. history with compelling courage and relatable characters rather than graphic violence. Expect interesting conversations.”



New York Times Editors Choice List 2/15 2015

‘Stella by Starlight’ and ‘Moonpenny Island’

Childhood may be the easiest time to go to bed as one person and wake up feeling like someone else. In two new middle-­grade novels, young heroines discover that adults are not always truthful, and that the world is more dangerous than anyone has been letting on. They’re life-­changing realizations, for sure, and in both books they present an opportunity to find a moral compass.

Inspired by the journal of her grandmother, who had to leave school in fifth grade to help on the family farm, Sharon M. Draper, the author of many young adult books, including “Out of My Mind,” sets “Stella by Starlight” in the South of the early 1930s. The line of segregation cuts through all aspects of life in Bumblebee, N.C., from inequitable schooling to inadequate health care to the denial of voting rights.

At the center of the novel is a young story­teller named Stella Mills, who ventures outside at night to write, wrestling words onto the pages of her secret notebook. Stella, who is African-American, witnesses a frightening event involving the Ku Klux Klan. Draper conveys a full, rich picture of Stella’s world, beginning with the importance of religion in the fabric of a rural, black Southern community. After decades of injustice and terror under Jim Crow laws, it is the local pastor who encourages his flock to stand up and be counted. “I will be at the voter registration office at 9 a.m. when it opens,” he tells the congregation. “Anybody who wants to come with me is welcome. I am a man. Amen. Amen.”

Stella is at her father’s side when he makes the trip. While she has gotten a front-row view of prejudice, she has the common sense to do the right thing later, becoming the unlikely savior of the daughter of the town’s chief bigot.

Poisonous snakes hide in tall grass in bright sunlight, and deadly creatures on two feet put on white cloaks and burn crosses in the night. An eagle can be seen in the blue sky of day, but also in the form of a brave 11-year-old African-American boy, an aspiring Olympian, who runs in the dark on the track of the off-limits white high school. Yet it’s not single acts of heroism but the solidarity of the community, people’s ability to come together both in times of need and to celebrate occasions for joy, that is most moving and inspiring. In honoring those like Stella and her family who went before us, Draper has written a novel that soars.

A far less dire but still potent societal division runs through “Moonpenny Island.” The people who stay on islands after the summer vacationers leave are made of different stuff. Why is an island a paradise for some and a prison for others? One thing becomes certain for Flor, the 11-year-old at the center of this story: No place is too small for secrets.

In her latest middle-grade novel, Tricia Springstubb has found just the right mix of intrigue, sorrow and compassion. Like the island, many of the residents of this charming, claustrophobic place — a craggy piece of land that juts up in the middle of a great lake — seem made of rock, immovable and filled with frozen life. “Moonpenny School is too small to have a real principal, so Mrs. Defoe is in charge,” we learn. “Her entire wardrobe is some shade of mud.”

Flor’s father is the only member of the police force. But her mother, who is Latina, is a transplant to the island. Change comes when Flor’s mother leaves to care for her sick grandmother, just as her best friend, Sylvie, also goes away under mysterious circumstances. New visitors arrive, a scientist and his daughter, Jasper, who is missing part of her arm. They have come looking for fossils, signs of ancient life buried in the rock.

“Moonpenny Island” is, at its core, about adaptation. How do people, like other organisms, change in order to survive? As Flor wonders, “will future humans be able to see stuff we can’t?” But what if evolution sent you backward? And can confinement possibly make a person bigger or better? As in all well-­written children’s books, these are questions not just for a young person, but for all of us.

STELLA BY STARLIGHT
By Sharon M. Draper
320 pp. Atheneum Books. $16.99. (Middle grade; ages 9 to 13)

MOONPENNY ISLAND
By Tricia Springstubb
Illustrated by Gilbert Ford
292 pp. Balzer & Bray/HarperCollins Publishers. $16.99. (Middle grade; ages 8 to 12)



Cover To Cover…“Stella by Starlight”
Jan 12, 2015 By Terri Schlichenmeyer

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, North Carolina , 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. Author Sharon M. 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.

c.2015, Atheneum Books for Young Readers
$16.99 / $19.99 Canada
336 pages



Stella by Starlight by Sharon Draper: A Unique Perspective Of Civil Rights During the Great Depression

Grades 4-8, Lexile 740

Told from the perspective of Stella, a young African-American girl, Stella by Starlight (Grades 4-8, Lexile 740) begins one starlit night when she and her brother, JoJo, are out way past their bedtime witnessing something that they should never have seen. In the distance, the siblings see a Stella By Starlightflicker of flames burning upon a cross, which can only signify one thing: the Ku Klux Klan is back! The small town of Bumblebee, North Carolina, is about to be completely upended because change is in the air as the unwelcome Ku Klux Klan re-emerges in their segregated town. Bumblebee’s black community must come together to protect themselves from the injustices that surround them. As Stella tries to understand it all, she learns to recognize her own bravery and the power of her words during this tumultuous time.

Sharon Draper has truly captured the African-American experience once again in her latest middle grade novel inspired by her late grandmother’s journal. Against the backdrop of the most devastating economic crisis in history, the Great Depression, Draper portrays the struggles African Americans faced in the segregated South decades before the accomplishments of the 1960s, providing a unique historical perspective. Draper brilliantly depicts the prejudices, intolerances and economic inequalities encountered by the small African-American community, leaving readers with the strong sense of kinship and bravery of these people as they fought against the oppression around them. Draper’s hope is that by the end of the story people will learn from these historical experiences and use that knowledge in a positive way today (check out the video below to hear more from Draper).



Sharon Draper discusses Stella By Starlight.

As well as showcasing a lesser-known era of history, this novel can be a mentor text for launching a writing workshop. Stella is an inspirational character who finds her own voice. Everyone has a story to tell and, although Stella struggles with her writing at times, she soon realizes she should write about what she knows best—herself. With this newfound realization, her confidence in her writing builds throughout the novel, and she starts her own newspaper, Stella’s Star Sentinel, to report about the events in her community and her life. This book is a great way to introduce your students to journalism and the power of the press. Start a classroom newspaper where students can each write about their community, school or their own personal lives. Stella by Starlight is the kind of book that will motivate your students to find the courage to express their inner voice and realize that each and every one of them is a writer.



Review: “Stella by Starlight”
Posted on January 13, 2015 | By Maggie Galehouse

Author Appearance
Sharon M. Draper, an educator, bestselling author and winner of the Coretta Scott King Award, will discuss and sign “Stella By Starlight,” her newest book for middle graders, 5 p.m. Wednesday (Jan.14), Blue Willow Bookshop, 14532 Memorial; 281-497-8675 or bluewillowbookshop.com.

Reviewed by Laura Mills

Sharon M. Draper’s new middle grade novel, “Stella by Starlight” (Atheneum Books for Young Readers) will no doubt beg comparisons to Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Set in Bumblebee, North Carolina in 1932, the book follows a young girl named Stella who faces the cruelties of racism, learns about the power of community, and finds strength in difficult circumstances. Though similar in tone to Lee’s classic, “Starlight” stands apart, providing a window onto the Depression-era South for a new generation of readers.

The book opens with 11-year-old Stella Mills and her younger brother, Jojo, witnessing a meeting of the Ku Klux Klan. The children rush home to inform their parents, and the black community of Bumblebee is thrown into turmoil. The rest of the novel follows Stella and her family as they try to go about their lives in the face of oppression.

Stella is a strong-willed and entertaining protagonist. Readers are privy to every aspect of her life, from her friendships at school to the larger events happening in her town. Much of the novel is spent on Stella’s love/hate relationship with writing, and scattered throughout are excerpts from her notebook; she likes to write in it late at night when no one can make fun of her poor spelling. Through these interludes we get more insight into Stella’s thoughts about current events and we watch her grow as a writer.

While Stella faces normal childhood challenges (wanting to impress her teacher, complaining about chores) more pressing issues interrupt her life. Stella witnesses racism first-hand throughout the novel. In one of the most compelling scenes, she accompanies her father when he registers to vote and they are both taunted by the man in charge: “Stella swallowed hard. She’d never been called an animal before. She certainly wasn’t going to let that man make her cry, however, so she focused on her father’s bushy eyebrows, so like her own.”

Woven between the more intense scenes are moments of joy and laughter, and Draper uses these to her advantage by filling them with period-rich detail. The descriptions of food alone are enough to make anyone long for a home-cooked meal, and the way Draper weaves in historical detail and cultural heritage feels artful and effortless — from the songs Stella sings in church to the stories told by her teacher. A note in the back of the book informs readers that Draper was inspired to write “Stella by Starlight” after reading her grandmother’s journals. (The title also shares its name with a popular jazz standard, recorded by several different artists.)

“Stella by Starlight” is not without its faults. Stella’s heroics can sometimes feel over-the-top, and some of the more intense scenes feel isolated from the rest of the novel. Overall, however, Draper has written a well-crafted story infused with bravery and compassion.



Review: Stella by Starlight
Posted by KidsReads

Stella lives in a small, segregated town in Western North Carolina, right on the eve of Franklin Delano Roosevelt's election. She has to go to a different school where she's no good at writing, she's not allowed in certain stores or the local library and some white people can be downright unpleasant. But things are mostly fine for her and her family until one starry night when Stella sees a burning cross, and her once peaceful community is upended by the Ku Klux Klan.

The Klan threatens the folks in her community and makes good on that threat when Stella's dad and a few other men go to town to register to vote. Things get tough, but the community relies on itself and the kindness of others and stands tall in the face of the Klan. Through everything, Stella learns that she might not be so bad at writing after all, and comes to find a real talent in herself she never knew existed.

Stella is such a warm, lively character, and it really hurt me to read about people being so cruel to her...
This book made me tear up on multiple occasions. Stella is such a warm, lively character, and it really hurt me to read about people being so cruel to her, her family and her friends. This is such a poignant and important novel for young people to read. I felt angry, sad, hopeless and eventually empowered by Stella's struggles and the injustices she faced.

The book clips along at a great pace, and though it's geared for middle grades, it is unflinching in its depictions of the segregated South. It's never preachy and it never dumbs situations down for its audience. That's why it is such a great book for young readers just learning about segregation.

Sharon M. Draper is a master storyteller. The characters are all so well written. Stella's family feels like any other family from any other period in time --- warm and loving with plenty of laughter. Stella and her mother are especially relatable, sharing mother-daughter moments I know I've had with my own mother. Stella is a fantastic young protagonist, and it's wonderful watching her self-confidence bloom over the course of the novel. The book is beautifully written and it's easy to get sucked in and read for the whole afternoon.

This was a wonderful story, and I highly recommend it to anyone looking for great historical fiction. Stella and her community are unforgettable, and you definitely won't want to put this one down.



Sharon Draper’s STELLA BY STARLIGHT and the “Gift” of Reading

Sharon Draper
This is Sharon Draper. You may know her from her long list of popular young adult titles. Perhaps you have read her New York Times Bestseller (it’s spent a year on this list), OUT OF MY MIND. Perhaps, like me, you were first introduced to Sharon Draper’s work in a middle grade or young adult literature survey course and you read TEARS OF A TIGER and the companion books after you were hooked by this one. In this picture, Sharon is trying to pull me a little lower, “You’re so tall,” she says.

A month or two ago, Sharon contacted me to let me know that she had a number of young adult titles that she had been reading during her appointment to the National Book Award committee. She was wondering how we might get those books to my Room 407 Readers. We batted it back and forth in Facebook messages eventually moving to the more personal email to make this connection happen. We finally came upon Sharon’s upcoming visit to the Kentucky Reading Association, a perfect opportunity to meet as I am only a twelve minute, door-to-door commute from Hankins Ranch to the historic Galt House in Louisville.

As the day approached, we traded emails once again to coordinate our meeting time. My stomach was all a-flutter. Here’s the thing. I have seen Sharon Draper a number of times in passing at national conferences. Either passing in the hallway or catching a glimpse of her in a signing booth thinking, “THAT’S Sharon Draper.” But, now, I would be meeting her face-to-face. No conference as catalyst. I’m going to meet Sharon Draper. We’ve all had these moments, haven’t we?

When I arrived at the Galt House, Sharon came down to meet me, but if you’ve never been to the Galt House with its two towers separated by the end of the very busy 4th Street, meeting anyone in one spot can be tricky indeed, especially when the Riverboat Festival is in full-float. I couldn’t stay parked on the street, so Sharon jumped into my Expedition (Noah and Maddie are aware that the family vehicle has been transport to super authors and educators like Donalyn Miller, Barry Lane, Penny Kittle, Jeff Anderson, Terry Thompson, and super educators like Teresa Bunner, Kelly Vorhis, and Jillian Heise). Sharon Draper is riding in my vehicle. I hadn’t vacuumed. And Sharon was gracious to not have noted this.

Now, we are on the first level of the Galt House parking garage. This is like something out of the opening scenes of a Police Academy movie. We are the only ones parked together as we make the exchange of over a hundred young adult titles published in 2014. After I have loaded the nine boxes into the Expedition, I ask Sharon what she is working on at the moment. And this is when Sharon reached into her traveling case to pull out what looks to be an advanced reader copy of something. Sharon doubled over and laughed, clutching her book to her chest as she recognized my primal reaction to anything new and bookish. I literally went to grab the book out of Sharon’s hands. Don’t judge me. You would have. You would have probably used the maze-like structure of the parking garage to make your get-away.

Before handing the book to me, Sharon had something to say about this new book. I’m holding it in my hands at this point and I can feel the newness of it all. The pages. The story. The book. Sharon has granted her permission for me to talk about STELLA BY STARLIGHT.

And I am going to talk about STELLA BY STARLIGHT from a first person point of view. This is a unique and trusted position into which Sharon has placed me as one of the first persons to have read the galley of the galley.

Sharon tells me that the book is a “gift.” And she says it in a way that I get her multiple meanings. The book is a gift some thirty years in the making. Back in 1983, Sharon was given the one remaining journal that belonged to her grandmother, Estella Mills. If you follow Sharon at Facebook, you will note her full name Sharon Mills Draper. On the covers of her books, you see this as Sharon M. Draper. ESTELLA BY STARLIGHT is a means of brining to light that “silent M” that has appeared on a number of treasured titles.

Sharon has carried that journal like a treasure. As she is handing me this new book, I sense that I am now carrying a part of that journal. I am holding something special. This is not just an ARC I’ve picked up in the booth. This is something that has been passed over a span of thirty years. . .eighty years. In one moment, we have shared a history. A gift. A charge.

Sharon tells me that she respects my opinion in regard to young adult literature. And I am glad of the atmosphere in which we are standing. She cannot see me blush in the half-light provided by the dome lights of the parking garage. I tell her that I will probably read the book later that day, and she repeats the word “gift.” The gift of my reading her book. The gift of my sharing her book.

And I read STELLA BY STARLIGHT. Starting at about five o’clock and staying with Stella until eight o’clock. I’ve been down by the river. I’ve been to the store. I’ve been to the polling place. I’ve been at the dinner table. I’ve been at the bedside. I have been to all of the places of this “gift” peeling back a corner here, a corner there, untying the threaded ribbon of a storyline through this “gift.”

Let’s do what I often do with new books and draw some notable comparisons of STELLA BY STARLIGHT to other well-known works. By doing this, I hope to draw you to STELLA BY STARLIGHT by way of what I connected to as I read. As much as the book has been inspired by Sharon’s grandmother, the new book is a fictional account drawn from that journal. There are vignettes of community members gathering about on a porch to share examples of what we might call “the dozens,” playful one-liners designed to bring the reader into a sense of community with the characters. This is very much like Zora Neale Hurston’s THEIR EYES WERE WATCHING GOD as we catch glimpses of the human interactions that make the characters feel like persons with whom we might trade barbs. As Stella reads the newspaper clippings, and we get a glimpse into the interests expressed and collected by this main character, we are getting a history lesson in 1932. Reading “ladders” and connections abound here. And, I don’t want to give away too much of the story, but an anecdote shared by the teacher, Mrs. Grayson, will have lead learners grabbing–or at least looking for–Virginia Hamilton’s 1985 Corretta Scott King Award-Winning, THE PEOPLE COULD FLY.

Sharon’s new title explores a difficult subject in balancing the terrorism of the Ku Klux Klan and the internal drive of the black man to want to cast his vote in a presidential election. The tension between the domestic and democratic is at play in STELLA BY STARLIGHT and Sharon creates a wonderful bridge across this tension with a main character who appreciates the cadence of The Pledge of Allegiance and can recite the beginnings of the Declaration of Independence (a rote skill learned in a one-room school house under the guidance of a lead learner who will make teachers stand up and cheer for the representation provided by Mrs. Grayson).

Anyone who knows my work will know I am given to follow a hero’s journey type of schema as I read. STELLA BY STARLIGHT hits all of the markers in a manner by which we will all be talking about “dragons” real and imagined. Stella Mills is a plucky hero with fallible guides and a quest we can all share, readers, writers, teachers, and students alike. And you won’t want to miss a cameo character in “the Spoon Man” who appears to peddle his wares, but leaves the reader with the first story that demonstrates the deep love between Stella and her mother.

Readers will see Stella struggle with the writing process throughout the book and this will make an excellent talking point during and after reading the work. Mr. Hankins suggests that STELLA BY STARLIGHT be read aloud to students to capture the pace and prosody of the narrative and Stella’s attempts at rendering elements of narrative into her own prose. But the encouragement that Stella receives from her teacher, her family, and her special friend, Tony can serve as a model for the kind of encouragement our own young writers might enjoy.

Yes. STELLA BY STARLIGHT is indeed a gift. And it will be a gift that keeps on giving by way of exploration, by way of exposition, and by way of explaining through the importance of recognizing and carrying forth a charge.

“You’re so tall. . .” she says.

Sharon. . .we all stand a little taller when we are affirmed by the authors we read and the authors we love. In real life–when you are not sharing your work with me before the rest of the reading world–we are actually the same height. But, we stand upon the memories, the experiences. . .the reading we have done and the writing we have attempted and the charges that come to us to continue to doing both.


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Study Guides

A COMMON CORE CURRICULUM GUIDE TO STELLA BY STARLIGHT

Summary:

In the middle of fifth grade, the girl who would grow up to be my Grandma Estelle, was forced to leave school forever so she could help on the family farm. It broke her heart, but not her spirit. No one knew it at the time, but she would sneak out each night after everyone was asleep, and write in a journal she kept hidden under the steps. When my grandmother passed away in 1983, I was given the only one of her journals that survived—it is one of my greatest treasures. Estelle, at age ten, could not know it, but she would become my muse, my spirit guide--to write and create and dream. She is my Stella by Starlight.

Discussion Topics for Stella by Starlight.

  1. The novel opens with a powerful description of a fire burning in the woods in the middle of the night. How does this help capture the reader's attention? What predictions can the reader make about Stella? About Jojo? About what might happen in their town?
  2. Describe the family’s home as described in chapter two. In what year and what town does the story take place?
  3. Describe Stella’s parents. How would you describe the relationship between the parents and the children?
  4. How would you describe Tony? Describe some of the frustrations the two children face. How does Stella feel about sitting outside at night with a boy she’s known all her life?
  5. Discuss Stella’s love of newspapers. How does her father inspire her to be interested in the news? How does the room decoration affect Stella’s connection to newspapers?
  6. Describe Stella’s walk to school and the children who lived nearby that walked with her. What can you learn about their community from this description?
  7. Describe Stella’s classroom (which was the whole school!) and her teacher. What does this say about the school system in Bumblebee and North Carolina at that time?
  8. How does Stella compare herself to the old apple tree outside the classroom window? What problems does Stella have in school?
  9. Why does Stella sneak out at night? What does she keep in her hidden cigar box and why?
  10. Why is a visit from Spoon Man a reason for excitement in the town? Describe Spoon Man and his wagon and his effect on the community.
  11. In your own words, summarize Spoon Man’s story about the eagle who thought he was a chicken. What does Stella think of the story?
  12. What does Stella learn about her father as they ride to town? What do you think most surprises her?
  13. Describe the voting registration. How do you think Stella felt throughout the ordeal? What do you think she learned that experience?
  14. What does Stella think about the writing contest? Make a prediction about how you think she will do in the competition.
  15. Why is the Sears Catalog exciting to Stella and Carolyn? Compare the reality of cleaning a chicken coop to her dreams of being able to buy some of the items pictured in the catalog.
  16. Describe the fire. Why doesn’t the fire department come and put it out? What do you learn about the community as they fight the fire?
  17. Do you think Stella is a hero? Explain. How does she feel about what she did? How does the community show their pride?
  18. In your own words, tell the teacher’s story of the people who could fly. Why is that story significant because of what had happened in their community?
  19. How do you think the typewriter changed Stella’s attitude about and ability with writing?
  20. How does the community come together on Election Day? Do you think the vote from Stella’s father made a difference? Explain.
  21. Describe both the negatives and the positives that happened as a result of the attack on Tony. Describe Stella’s feelings.
  22. What does Stella’s mother teach her as they hunt for herbs and plants? How does Stella use that information later?
  23. How does Mrs. Odom save the day? Why is it surprising? What more do you learn about community because of what she did?
  24. What problems does Paulette face at home? What is surprising about Paulette’s revelations?
  25. Describe the humorous parts of the Christmas play. Why is it a good place for the story to end?

Activities and Research

  1. Put yourself in Bumblebee in 1932. Write a paper that tells what it would be like to be Stella for one day. Write about your clothes, your chores, your community, and your friends.
  2. Investigate the recent changes in voting rights laws in many states. How similar are some of the new laws to the way people were treated in 1932?
  3. Investigate the art of storytelling, both long ago and today. Why is storytelling important for human beings to share?
  4. Research current social and community problems in the news. Comment on what can be done to make our communities safer and that everyone is treated fairly.
  5. Research old typewriters and how they worked.
  6. Research old folk songs and gospel songs like those mentioned in the novel. What part do traditional songs and music play in the role of a community?
  7. Write a letter to one of the characters in the book explaining your feelings about the events in the story. What advice would you give Stella, Tony, or Paulette?
  8. Imagine it is the last day of fifth grade. Write a letter or create a conversation between one of the following pairs of characters:
    • Stella and Mrs. Grayson
    • Stella and Tony
    • Paulette and Stella
    • One of the Spencer children and their parents
  9. Trace the story of one of the following characters. Imagine you are a reporter doing a story on one of their lives. Write everything you know, as well as whatever you can infer about the character in order to write your magazine article.
    • Dr. Packard
    • Mrs. Cooper
    • Stella’s mother
    • Stella’s father
    • Jojo
  10. You are a reporter at one of the following scenes. Write the story for your newspaper.
    • Local House Burns Down
    • Local Woman Bit by Snake
    • Local Child Almost Drowns in Kilkenney Pond
    • National Storyteller Comes to Town

WRITING ACTIVITIES

Read the quotes, then write the essay that follows.

1. COMPARISON/CONTRAST PAPER



A.
“Uh, my little brother is sick,” Stella said. “He’s got a bad cough, an upset stomach, and a fever.”

Mr. O’Brian looked genuinely concerned. “I’m sorry to hear that. Sounds like a touch of the flu. Some Sal Hepatica might help the young fella,” he said. “It’s a good product, but tell your brother to be warned. It fizzes going in, and fizzes coming out!” He laughed at his own joke, but Stella was in no mood for humor.

“Thank you,” she said politely.

“And for the cough, try Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup. It’s got a little camphor and a little menthol, and probably lots of other things they never tell us about. But it works.”

“That’s exactly what Mama asked for,” Stella agreed. “I appreciate this. How much?”

“Let’s see. The cough syrup is 18 cents and the medicine is 32 cents. That comes to fifty cents.”

Stella fingered the two dimes and a nickel in her palm. “I’ve got half that,” she said awkwardly, flushing with embarrassment. She looked around self-consciously, but thankfully, Paulette was nowhere to be seen.

“Well, what do you know!” Mr. O’Brien said cheerfully. “I forgot to tell you--today is half-price day! And you have exactly enough.”

Stella looked up at him. Their eyes met, then she bowed her head with gratitude. “Thank you, sir,” she said. “Very much.”

“I hope little Jojo feels better,” Mr. O’Brien said gently. He reached under the glass counter, pulled out a cinnamon cookie, and handed it to Stella, still warm. “My wife just took these from the oven. It’s chilly today, and you’ve got a long walk home. This’ll help keep you warm.”

Almost in tears at his kindness, Stella thanked him once more, and walked out of the store, the brown paper bag in her left hand, and the cookie in her right.


B.
“What you doin’, gal?” a raspy voice said behind her.

Stella turned uneasily. Sitting on the bench in the front of the store were Max Smitherman and Johnnie Ray Johnson. They had not been there when she went in--she surely would have noticed.

“Girl, he asked you a question,” Johnnie Ray said.

“Just . . . just getting medicine for my brother,” Stella replied, looking down at her shoes. Even though she could feel anger creeping up in her, she’d been taught since she was very young to say as little as possible to mean white people.

“Your mama know you spent her money on cookies for yourself?” Mr. Smitherman said, his voice taunting. “Or maybe—” he turned to Johnnie Ray, “--her daddy too busy votin’ and such to be teachin’ manners to his daughter.”

“The cookie was a gift,” Stella mumbled, the anger turning to fury.

“I’m thinkin’ she don’t need that there cookie,” Smitherman said to Johnson.

“I’m thinkin’ she musta stole that there cookie,” Johnson said to Smitherman.

“Maybe she went in there and voted for the cookie,” Smitherman said with a cruel laugh.

Johnnie Ray, with two huge steps, was beside Stella. He snatched the cookie from her hand.

Stella could take no more. “You give that back!” she exclaimed. Even though she would have never put the cookie in her mouth now that he had touched it, she added, “You can’t just steal other people’s stuff!”

Johnnie Ray stared her in the eye and stuffed broken cookie chunks into his mouth. Max Smitherman threw his head back and hooted.

Compare and/or contrast the attitudes and behavior of Mr. O’Brian and Johnnie Ray Smitherman. Discuss their roles in the novel, the effect of their actions on the plot of the story, and their effect on the reader of the story. Use specific examples from the book to support your statements.

2. DESCRIPTIVE PAPER


" The sun grew golden, then rusty as it slipped slowly toward the horizon. Then, out of the blue, a gaggle of silvery geese erupted from the reeds at the pond’s edge, honking and swirling in circular disorder. Stella went instantly alert. What had them all riled up? A fox? It wasn’t more of those men, was it? Then she heard a crackling of underbrush--or was it just the random movement of the fallen leaves? There was no way to be sure, but she decided not to take any chances. Stella hurried back into her house, pulled the back door shut, and locked it.

Write a descriptive paper that uses sensory imagery. Describe a specific scene and bring it to life with your words. Use vivid verbs and powerful adjectives and adverbs as you write. Use as many of the senses as you can. (sight, sound, smell, touch, taste) .

3. NARRATIVE PAPER


“Every once in a while, I bring a notebook out here and write about animals and stuff. Anything to get my mind off things going on at home.”

Amazed, Stella asked her, “So why did you take your shoes off? It’s freezing out here.”

Paulette started crying again. “I was, uh, being stupid . . . I thought maybe. . . ,”

“You didn’t go in on purpose?”

“I didn’t! I swear. Well, not really. But—I was just so upset! I figured if my daddy. . .” she dropped her head and sniffled. “If I got, well, sick with something really awfully bad like pneumonia or cholera or something. . . “

“You can’t get cholera from cold water,” Stella scoffed, crossing her arms.

“I know. I know. But I wanted to get sick with something really bad so he’d pay attention to me for a change! He’s a doctor—if I had to go to ah hospital or something, maybe he’d remember he had a little girl. Maybe my folks would stop fighting.” She started to cry again.

Stella frowned. She wasn’t sure how to react to the shivering white girl. How unhappy she had to be!”

Write a narrative paper from the point of view of Paulette, or about Paulette. Describe her daily life. Discuss her strengths and weaknesses and problems.

4. EXPOSITORY PAPER


“The family sat huddled around the only table in the house, with Dusty, their brindle hound, curled underneath. Stella loved the feel of that table--she loved to trace the circular patterns in the warm brown wood. Made of elm and built by her father when he married her mother, the table was large, sturdy, and dependable—and so much more than a place for meals. It was a sewing table for her mother, a place to clean fish for her father, the battle ground for many family games of checkers, and even a pretend track for Jojo to race his two wooden toy cars. Stella, now nervously circling the burl of the wood grain at double speed, thought tonight could be the one when she wore a hole clear through it.”

“Scooching her knees up, she gazed at the newspaper-covered wall next to her bed. Most every plank of pine wood inside the house was covered with old newspapers. Newsy decoration, Mama called it. The pages were glued on with wood paste and randomly selected: a wall might sport an ad for medicine next to an article on the price of eggs. As the pages yellowed or peeled, Mama slapped fresh ones up. Stella could not remember when she wasn’t surrounded by newsprint. Tonight she reread a piece about what the paper called a crime wave—three robberies—which was next to a story about a college debate team and their success. It seemed like only seconds passed when she woke with a start as her mother tickled her nose with a feather.”

Write an expository (explanatory) paper that describes a room at your school, or your house. Tell what is unusual or unexpected about the place. Use as many specifics as possible.

5. PERSUASIVE PAPER


"Outside the classroom window stood an ancient apple tree, its branches gnarled and entwined. They’d all feasted on the fruit since the start of school, but the last of the apples had fallen in the past week. Stella gazed out at the few remaining leaves which stirred in the sharp breeze. When she opened her notebook, her thoughts snarled like those tangled branches. Stella didn’t like to write.

When she was in first grade, it had taken her longer than anyone else to figure out the connection between words in her head and the charts on the wall that listed both the printed and cursive versions of the ABCs. Reading had come slowly. Mrs. Grayson had been patient every year, letting Stella work at her own pace, but she’d struggled with putting it all together. For sure, she’d never be the class spelling bee champion like Carolyn.

So instead of beginning her essay, Stella busied herself with getting ready to get ready. She had a system—pencils on the left, notebook on the right, books in the middle. She liked everything neat and lined up so the edges matched.

Not that any of that mattered, she thought glumly. A neat desk couldn’t cover up her struggles. The inside of her notebooks were a jumble of half-finished work, scratch-outs, and mess-ups. Arithmetic wasn’t so bad—numbers lined up in an order that made sense to her.

But writing, oh Lordy. It wasn’t that she didn’t have strong opinions on lots of things. She sure did! But putting them on a piece of paper just wasn’t her piece of cake. Or pie. Or pancakes with molasses, which she dearly loved. Writing was more like trying to chew chicken bones—hard to do and not worth the effort. She even had a couple of bad grades in that notebook that she’d hidden from her parents, which she knew was dumb. Eventually her mama and Mrs. Grayson would get to talking at church, and her life would be over.

Stella’s mind was spinning with ideas, images of flames sealed in her memory. So she really did try to start on her essay in earnest. She scratched out words. Started again. Erased half of it with her almost-used-up gum eraser. Started again. Stopped.

Shoulders slumped, she stared out the window. A slight breeze blew through the arms of the apple tree, causing a few curled and ruddy leaves to dance aimlessly to the ground. Stella figured sticking those leaves back on the branches would be easier than trying to move the stuff in her head to the empty blue lines in her notebook.”

Write a persuasive paper that discusses one of the following options: (a) “Stella’s struggles reflect most students at one time or another.” (b) Stella is unique in her struggles because of the time in which she lives and her education and background.” Be sure to use specifics to support your answer.

6. FICTIONAL ANALYSIS PAPER


(a) “Now it came to pass that a young woman was living on one plantation, a woman of strength, a woman with dreams. Her name was Zalika, which, in the Swahili language, means, ‘born to royalty.’ She constantly looked to the sky. She was able to predict the moment the sun would peep above the horizon, and the instant the land would fade into night. She had named every cloud, even though no two were ever the same. She knew when the sky would pour down rain upon them, and when the sun would burn their backs. She memorized the flight patterns of the birds as they soared above, studying them every single day.

(b) “Once, long, long ago, there was a noble eagle who laid three eggs. She carefully set them in her nest atop the tallest mountain. She watched those eggs, and kept them warm, and loved her little nestlings even before they hatched. “But one day, a great storm raged around that mountaintop. The winds blew something fierce, and heavy rains pelted the eagle and her nest. Thunder crashed and lightning crackled! An earthquake rocked the earth. Why, the whole world shook with the power of that storm!”

Analyze the stories or the storytelling of Spoon Man and Mrs. Grayson. (You can go back and re-read the entire story that each character told.) Discuss their effectiveness at telling the stories, the effect of the stories on the listeners, and the effect of their story on the plot. Use specific examples from the book to support your statements.

7. WRITING ANALYSIS PAPER


Read each of Stella’s writings in the novel and describe how she improves and becomes a better writer. Use specific words or phrases or sentences to prove your points.

8. POETRY


Write a poem about one of the following topics: Or a topic of your own choice.
  • The Girl who Couldn’t Write
  • Fire
  • By the Water in the Moonlight
  • Fear
  • The Power of Friendship
  • Courage

9. CHARACTER SKETCH PAPER


Only one had a car—Mrs. Odom and Claudia. But Mrs. Odom rarely drove it, not even to church. She kept it in her barn, covered with blankets. . . .

“Mrs. Odom, who usually dressed in demure long dresses and straw hats, had on a pair of men’s overalls and an old plaid work shirt. Her hair was unstyled and all over her head. Her daughter Claudia, looking sleepy, wore a nightgown. And Dr. Hawkins—Dr. Hawkins!--in his Sunday-go-to-meeting three-piece suit and fedora filled the room with his authority. . . .

Stella hopped up, patted the place she’d been sleeping, and tucked Claudia in. Claudia was out before Stella even had the blanket fully around her. Then Stella ran over to the adults. Her father was in the midst of giving Mrs. Odom a bear hug. He pulled Stella into it.

“Stella girl! Praise the Lord! Mrs. Odom here heard about the snake bite, got in her car, and drove all the way to Raleigh to get Dr. Hawkins from his medical conference!” Papa told her, mashing them both.

Mrs. Odom extracted herself from the embrace, but her cheeks were flush with pride.

Stella felt she was going to burst. Mrs. Odom? She drove? The woman who wouldn’t ever take the car out for fear of getting dust on it? Praise the Lord indeed!”

Write a character sketch of a family member, a friend, or a relative. Use strong verbs and adjectives, lots of specifics, as well as sensory imagery.

10. PERSONAL ESSAY


" My name is Estelle Mills, and I am not nobody. Mrs. Grayson would say that’s a double negative. Well, I’m here to say I’m not no negative. I am me, and that’s a fact.

I like to be called Stella because it reminds me of stars and I like the night. Mama tells me I was born at midnight during a full moon. Maybe that is why.

I am left-handed—the only student in the whole school who is.

My family reminds me of good things to drink.

Mama is hot chocolate.

Papa is black coffee.

Jojo is sweet tea.

Me, I’m the color of rum. Mama cooks with it sometimes.

I’ve got thick black hair, and bushy caterpillar-looking eyebrows. When I look in the mirror, I don’t see pretty. I just see me.”

Write a personal essay that describes YOU as Stella described herself. You can also describe a special memory or event. Explain why it is meaningful to you. Be sure to include sensory imagery--sights, smells, touches, tastes, sounds.

Stella by Starlight Q and A


1. Stella by Starlight is dedicated to your father and grandmother. How did they inspire you to write the novel?

While sitting on my grandmother’s front porch as a child, quietly listening to the funny, bold, and sometimes audacious conversations of the grownups, I had no idea a story of my own would emerge from those summer evenings. I loved the rhythm of their voices, the power of their laughter. They came to that porch weary from working all day, but left there energized. My father and grandmother were different people on those evenings—indulgent to me rather than strict—with Grandma sneaking me cookies and Daddy letting me stay up way past my bedtime. They were the early threads of a quilt I didn’t even know I was weaving.

2. How did you find out about your grandmother’s journal?

I found out, many years later, that my grandmother, when she was a little girl, had kept a secret journal of her hopes and dreams--a notebook she wrote outside, after dark, under the stars. I was given that journal many years ago, and I promised to write her story. I had no idea a story of my own would emerge from those summer evenings.

3. Did receiving and getting to read this journal inspire you to keep a journal of your own?

Yes, I have a journal, and yes, it is my guide and personal place to share my thoughts and feelings and ideas and fears. My grandmother kept a journal, which amazed and awed me. A little girl living in the country with only a fifth grade education—she wrote in a journal just to please herself. My journal is mostly filled with words that I find amusing--descriptions of interesting people I meet (I could fill a book with people I see in airports!), scribbles, and thoughts about characters and ideas that may or may not develop. Stories grow within me for several years before they erupt into words onto paper. It’s a fluid process, full of surprises as a novel comes slowly to fruition. I think my grandmother inspired me long before I knew it—her spirit runs through me.

4. What would your grandmother Estelle think about Stella by Starlight? What would she most like for you to share with others about this book?

I think Grandma Estelle would be really proud of me. She was a quiet lady—never said more than needed to be said—but I think she would have told me that I did a mighty fine job for a city girl. She’d be glad I spoke up about injustices, glad that the book can teach young people big truths about life and humanity and the power of the human spirit. And she’d chuckle because she would know that young people would never even know they were learning all that because they were just reading a good story. She would also really like the title. It’s also a song title and she would have danced to it when she was young.

5. ‎Stella struggles with writing throughout the novel but desperately wants to write. What advice would you give to aspiring young writers?

When I was a teacher English, I was well aware that, like Stella, writing was very difficult for lots of students, while others seemed to glide through the process effortlessly. I tell all young writers that their first job is to record the essence of their ideas as best they can. Refinement and revision come next. Neither published writers nor seventh-grade students like the process of changing and improving those lovely first words. So whether the student is struggling like Stella, or creating ideas and stories with little effort, the process is the same. I tell them to make their first attempts even better, and their final product something to be proud of.

6. Have you ever experienced writer's block?

Oh, yes. It’s very painful. I used to be very glib about words gushing from my brain without interruption, but when that fountain stopped, it was horrible. And humbling. I found my words again after several months of waiting and working through the spider webs in my brain. I will never again take lightly the gift of writing with ease.

7. How is this story is different than Melody’s in Out of My Mind?

Although they are both eleven-year-old girls, Stella is very different from Melody. Stella lives in 1932 in a community filled with lots more love than money, and also quite a bit of danger. She struggles in school with writing and reading, and how to express her thoughts on paper. Her journey of discovery becomes the story—the discovery of evil, the strength of family, and the power of the written word.

8. What do you hope Stella by Starlight does for readers?

First of all, I want young people to love the story and cheer for Stella. If readers can identify with a character, the plot flows easily. Then I’d like for them to think about some of the issues in the book—some personal, like having difficulty in school, and others more social—like fear and injustice and courage. I would like for Stella by Starlight to become a starting point for lots of discussions. I’d like for young readers to feel the rhythms of a close community, to understand how the past reflects the present, to think about social injustice through storytelling and song. When they read Stella by Starlight, I want them to learn a larger truth about life and humanity, without ever knowing they have done so.

9) Why is literature like Stella by Starlight needed in today's environment?

Stella by Starlight is needed because it helps us to think, to remember, and to grow. By visiting the past we can see the present and perhaps change the future. Great books have always influenced public attitudes. I hope that Stella is able to touch the lives and hearts of those who read it.

10. Have you ever written by starlight?

I've marveled at the moon—the phases intrigue me--but I've never written anything while outside on a starry night. But I’m sure that those images eventually evolved into words in a story. All natural events inspire me--freshly fallen snow and thunderstorms and the changing of leaves in the fall -- but the starlight and the moon I left to Stella. They belong to her.