Monday, May 11, 2015

Stella by Starlight by Sharon M. Draper

In 1932 Jim Crow laws were in full swing and African Americans were threatened by the Klu Klux Klan. Racism and prejudice was rampant, but bonds and connections made blacks united and connected to their community like family. The strength of this novel is the atmosphere created and wonderful dialogue, voice, and rhythms that Sharon Draper rat-a-tats throughout the pages. Stella by Starlight, the title, is a song by the famous African American singer, Ella Fitzgerald. This is a tale to dance by under a full moon. 

Eleven-year-old Stella Mills lives in segregated Bumblebee, North Carolina with her mom, dad, and younger brother, JoJo. When the two kids spot the Klan burning a cross across the pond from their home, fear sears through the tight-knit community for the last time that happen a man was murdered. The African American community gathers at Stella's house to discuss the events and look out for the children. Everyone is on edge and expecting changes because it is an election year with Hoover and Roosevelt running against each other for the presidency. When Stella's father decides to take a stand and vote with two other African American men, the tension mounts even more and things get ugly. 

I'm starting to see the same story threads over and over in children's books. One is the child that struggles in school with reading or writing and learns to rise above it and believe in himself or herself. Ella struggles with writing that seems to be the result of serious writer's block and being left-handed. She edits heavily before getting her story on paper that makes it difficult for her to get started. The only time she can write is outside under the moon in the middle of the night.

I was a bit bored with the beginning when we first learn of her battle with putting pencil to paper, mainly because I've read quite a few books like this as of late. But the author makes it interesting as Stella learns to deal with her writing handicap. Stella can write but struggles with conventions. Her writing is thought-provoking, truthful, and full of edits. That first draft for her is painful, like it is for many of us. She is persistent at trying to improve and her hard-work shows at the end with improved writing and a desire to maybe become a reporter. 

The injustices are ticked off throughout the story. The African Americans can't vote, can't go to the white doctor, can't go to the library, can't go to the new, better-resourced school, and so on. This is balanced by how rich their community is in caring for each other and showing solidarity when the Klan tries to intimidate them. There are some white people that show kindness, but for the most part it shows how Stella and Tony discover evil and hatred in other humans. 

The overarching theme is Stella discovering the power of the human spirit. People can choose to be evil or good, to hate or love, to lie or be honest, to fear or be brave. Stella finds power in writing and speaking the truth and she sees how to face the ugliness of racism by the strength of her community and making different choices. She learns to stand up against social injustices. These themes are woven by characters that sing and tell folk tales that gives the story a rhythm, voice, and cadence that is beautiful. 

While it shows the tightness of the African American community, some might find the song and community building slow. The songs show how it gave them strength to rise above social injustices, to be joyful, and to find hope. The storytelling was another way to rise above circumstances and the peddler and school teacher's story add depth. I thought the incidence with the white girl predictable. However, it supports the overarching theme of choice in human beings regardless of the color of their skin. 

This can be a starting point for discussions on fear, humaneness, and courage. Storytelling, oral traditions, writing and song are ways to get people to unite, to think about social injustices, and live a life that is full of potential. Draper is a terrific writer. The rhythms and steady beat of family and friends point to bigger truths for all of us. Don't miss this one.

5 Smileys

No comments:

Post a Comment