(Image from Barnes & Noble)
Late one night, long after they should be asleep, Stella Mills and her little brother crouch behind a tree, watching. The scene playing out before their eyes is the worst kind of nightmare—the real kind. They see figures in pointy white hoods burning a black cross across the pond near their house. Only eight, Jojo doesn't understand what he's seeing, but Stella does. It's the Ku Klux Klan. Active in her little town of Bumblebee, North Carolina. And its clearly ready to make trouble for the town's Negro residents. Despite her fear, Stella knows she has to warn her family, friends, and all the folks in her close-knit community.
Despite the fact that it's a segregated town, Stella has always felt safe in Bumblebee. Sure, some of the white folks treat their dark-skinned neighbors poorly, but not all of them. And while there are certain shops in town she's not allowed to frequent, there are others where she's welcome. Through the front door, even. Now that Klan activity has started up, however, Stella feels frightened. Who were the men in the white sheets? If they knew she witnessed their rally, what would they do to her? To Jojo? Through the diary entries she writes by moonlight, Stella tries to make sense of this new danger and what it means for her and her loved ones.
As tensions rise in Bumblebee, Stella must learn to do more than just write about problems. She has to face them. But finding her own voice—and the courage to use it—isn't easy. Can she be as brave as her Daddy, who's determined to register to vote? Can she stand up for herself and what she believes in, no matter what the danger? As Stella gains confidence in herself, she learns a great many things about who she is, what she can do, and, most significantly, the importance of doing what's right despite the consequences.
Using vivid prose, Sharon M. Draper brings the Jim Crow South alive in her middle grade novel, Stella By Starlight. Although the book discusses serious issues like racism, segregation, the fight for equal rights, etc. its real focus is on the power of family, faith, and finding one's own voice. While parts of the story are definitely tense and frightening, the book never gets too scary for its intended audience. Its darker scenes are counterbalanced by those describing the warmth and joy Stella finds within her home and community. Both help to paint a true, but not terrifying, picture of what life must have been like for a young black girl growing up in the South in the early '30s. Exciting and instructive, Stella By Starlight is a compelling story that will appeal to readers young and old.
(Readalikes: Reminds me of other children's books about racial inequality/Civil Rights, like With the Might of Angels by Andrea Davis Pinkney)
If this were a movie, it would be rated:
for mild language, violence, and intense situations
To the FTC, with love: I borrowed a finished copy of Stella By Starlight from my children's elementary school library as part of my volunteer work with the school's homegrown reading program.