Stella by Starlight by Sharon M. Draper, review by Melissa Fox
It's 1932, and the country is in the throes of the Great Depression. Franklin D. Roosevelt is running for president. It's a hard and exciting time but for Stella and her family, none of this really matters. They're more concerned about making it day to day. And avoiding the local Klu Klux Klan.
They mostly keep their heads down, avoiding the white folk of their segregated North Carolina town. That is, until the election rolls around and Stella's father (along with their pastor and a couple of others) decide to exercise their constitutional right and vote.
It seems like a simple story, but in Draper's capable hands, it's much more nuanced. She paints a picture of what life was like for African Americans struggling to get ahead, to put slavery behind them, in the 1930s. The one-room school, with a teacher who handles all grades next to the white school where they get new books. The small houses and hand-me-over clothes. Having to enter in the back door of shops. Or, most tellingly, a white
doctor who won't come help Stella's mother after she'd been bitten by a rattle snake.
Not only is this book ripe with historical detail, Stella is the perfect lens to see these difficult and challenging events through. She's an observant, smart girl, but one who also struggles with writing in school. She's trying to figure out her place in life, how to navigate the injustices of her situation, and still come out ahead. She's got fantastic
parents and a supportive community. There's so much that I found admirable about the way she deals with her situation.
There is also much to discuss; this is a time in history that there isn't much children's fiction about. And Draper fills that hole admirably.
Recommended for ages 10 and up.