Right now, many people — kids and grownups — are scared, wondering what is going to happen in the next few years. Books can provide hope and help and a feeling of safety, as well as helping us to learn about each other so we can celebrate all the ways we are the same, instead of fearing the differences. One very special book that helps to do that is A Handful of Stars by Cynthia Lord. I want to share it with you today.
Title: A Handful of Stars
Author: Cynthia Lord
Publisher: New York: Scholastic Press, 2015
Genre: Middle Grade fiction
Audience Age: 9 to 12
Themes/Topics: friendship, prejudice, poverty, differences, migrant workers, Hispanic Americans, overcoming prejudice
Opening Sentences: The only reason I ever spoke to Salma Santiago was because my dog ate her lunch.
Synopsis: Salma Santiago is a girl whose family are migrant workers hired to pick blueberries in Maine in the summer. As the narrator (and main character) of the book, Lily, says, “I don’t usually talk to those kids and they don’t usually talk to me.”
After Salma stops Lily’s old, blind Labrador retriever from running away, the two girls slowly, tentatively build a friendship across the divides of race, culture, custom, and the ingrained prejudices of a small town.
The girls bond over the bee houses Lily creates, the blueberry enchiladas Salma’s mother makes, and the way they share what they have in common and teach each other about their differences – from things like the foods they eat and the way they paint designs on their beehouses to the deeper differences of their cultures and ways of life.
When Salma wants to participate in the girls’ beauty pageant at the local blueberry festival, like Lily, their friendship is tested by the prejudice others show and by the way these prejudices start affecting Lily’s thinking as well.
As the publisher’s website says, “Set amongst the blueberry barrens and by the sea, this is a gorgeous new novel by Newbery Honor author Cynthia Lord that tackles themes of prejudice and friendship, loss and love.”
This book is inspiring and uplifting. It helps us see through the eyes of a migrant worker’s daughter, and feel some of what she felt. it helps us learn about differences and similarities. It’s also fun — and will make you hungry for blueberry enchiladas! I hope you will find it and read it, and share it with a friend.
For Further Enrichment: You can find a discussion guide – and a recipe for blueberry enchiladas! – as well as more information about Cynthia Lord, the author, at her website.
There’s a brief audio recording of Cynthia Lord talking about what inspired her to write the book at Teaching Books’ website.
You can learn more about blueberries at the website of the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council.
You can find out how to build bee houses at this site, the National Wildlife Federation.
These houses are specifically for mason bees. Learn more about mason bees and where they live at this link.
Find kids’ books about Hispanic migrant workers here.