‘Stella by Starlight’ by Sharon M. Draper: Strong fiction about the South


Rating: 5 stars

“Stella by Starlight” is by the acclaimed author Sharon M. Draper. It’s a story dedicated not only to her father, but also to her grandmother, Estelle, who she writes “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.”

This fictional Stella also writes in a journal. In fact, she sneaks outside at night to try to write because she is ashamed that writing is so difficult for her during the day at school. While Stella has lots and lots of ideas, getting them onto paper is difficult — but Stella desperately wants to.

But it’s the beginning of the book that will grab readers by the throat and not let them go until the last page. Because the first page is about the Klu Klux Klan burning a cross while the main character and her brother are hiding and watching from across the pond — the reader knows that this is going to be an exciting, tension-filled book.

And it is. But it’s also about family and love and kindness. It’s not only about people without a drop of compassion for those whose skin is a different color — it’s about the white people who did what they could to make things better. It’s about children who do not share the prejudice of their parents, and it’s about keeping one’s dignity even at the possible cost of one’s life.

Ugly things happen in this book. But beautiful things also come to pass. The narration is third person but the point of view is all Stella. And Stella is a great character. Strong, determined, loyal, and yet filled with doubts about her ability to write. She acts decisively and is quick to help others.

Stella grows a lot during the course of the story even though it’s not long in terms of chronological time. She matures, she sees more than any young child should, and she learns how to stand up for herself. It’s a great choice for teachers who want to show character development.

With the movie about Selma and its march, this is the perfect time for children to read “Stella by Starlight.” There is a scene in it reminiscent of the voting scene in the movie “Selma,” where Stella’s father and two other men go to town and register to vote. It’s a gripping scene, but just one of many that will cause the reader to keep reading to find out what happens next.

This story would make a fabulous read aloud for fourth, fifth or sixth grade students, and the story will excite children from fourth grade through middle school. High school students would love this as a quick and easy read. Stella is an admirable and likable character from her dirty toes (no shoes) to her thick curly black hair.

Please note: This review is based on the final hardcover book provided by the publisher, Atheneum Books for Young Readers, for review purposes.

HERE IS THE LINK TO QUESTIONS ABOUT THIS BOOK FOR USE WITH STUDENTS. Questions created by my husband and former English teacher Jack Kramer. The questions are available for free download, and are to be used in educational and/or private settings. They may not be used elsewhere or for other purposes (such as for profit) unless explicit permission is granted.