The year is 1932 and eleven year old Stella and her little brother Jojo are witness to a cross burning deep in the North Carolina woods. Now Stella knows that the world isn’t always fair to her: she walks past the white school daily, she can’t enter the stores using front doors, and somehow, this new sight makes her feel unsafe for the very first time in her life.
Stella by Starlight
The small town of Bumblebee is divided: segregation is a fact of life, and the KKK’s arrival portends many changes and dangers. While Stella is trying to navigate these changes and her first-ever feelings of danger in her life, Draper presents characters and choices in small vignettes from Stella’s point of view. This technique allows younger readers to identify with the situations and questions that arise, while understanding the evils of prejudice and segregation in action.
For me, this story was easier to relate to in terms of younger (middle grade) readers: presenting some complex subjects in a way that is clearly spoken by one of their peers – Stella. Stella’s voice is solid, her questioning of the ‘status quo’ honest, and her recitation of her parent’s fears, and her own interactions outside of her small section of town are honest. And, seeing the story through Stella’s eyes gives readers that peculiar viewpoint that is at once informed and prejudiced by the warnings, restrictions and dangers present to those of color in the time.
While not perfect: there are very few characters nuanced with the good and bad that is part of every being, as an introduction to how things were and the dangers of seeing and judging everyone in terms of color first are quickly apparent to young and old alike. I keep coming back to the fact that this story is written for younger readers, and my own experiences and knowledge are hindering my hearing the story with a child’s ear, tuned to the nuances and storytelling that make a story more authentic and approachable to a child.
Narration in this story is provided by Heather Alicia Simms, and her tone, her voice and even the pauses in which she honors the quiet moments of the story are perfectly executed and appropriate. Lovely inclusions of song bring a lightness and spirituality to the story: not in a religious sense, but appropriate to the feel of the actions before and after. While there is a hollowness to the recording, as if one of the filters was left open, the story flows beautifully, it’s meant to be listened to rather than read, and young and old can appreciate the production.
A story that is meant to be on every child’s shelf, as they learn to navigate the world and its many challenges, Stella by Starlight personalizes a moment in time that still resonates in behavior today, and presents listeners and readers, young and old, with moments of truth and questions for conscience that will inform, influence and impact their thoughts.
Stars: Overall 5 Narration 5 Story 5
Title: Stella by Starlight
Author: Sharon M. Draper
Genre: Children's Literature, African-American
Narrator: Heather Alicia Simms
Published on: 6 January 2015
Source: Simon and Schuster Audio
Audio Length: 6 Hours: 46 minutes
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When the Ku Klux Klan's unwelcome reappearance rattles Stella's segregated southern town, bravery battles prejudice in this Depression-era tour de force from Sharon Draper, the New York Times bestselling author of Out of My Mind.
Stella lives in the segregated South; in Bumblebee, North Carolina, to be exact about it. Some stores she can go into. Some stores she can't. Some folks are right pleasant. Others are a lot less so. To Stella, it sort of evens out, and heck, the Klan hasn't bothered them for years. But one late night, later than she should ever be up, much less wandering around outside, Stella and her little brother see something they're never supposed to see, something that is the first flicker of change to come, unwelcome change by any stretch of the imagination. As Stella's community - her world - is upended, she decides to fight fire with fire. And she learns that ashes don't necessarily signify an end.
A copy of this title was provided via Simon and Schuster Audio for purpose of honest review. I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility.
I do encourage you to go to Sharon M. Draper’s Website – there you will find information about the story, ideas, hints for readers and homework helpers as well as some wonderful stories from the author.