A Handful of Stars by Cynthia Lord

A Handful of Stars9780545700276_p0_v2_s260x420A Handful of Stars

Cynthia Lord, Author

Scholastic Press, Fiction, May 26, 2015

Pages: 192

Suitable for Ages: 8-12, Grades 3-7

Themes: Blueberries, Migrant workers, Hispanic-American children, Prejudice, Blind dog, Friendship, Multicultural

Opening: The only reason I ever spoke to Salma Santiago was because my dog ate her lunch. 

Synopsis: Two girls from different cultures meet when Lily’s blind dog, Lucky, takes off across the blueberry barrens of Maine. Salma, a migrant girl, grabs her peanut butter sandwich and lures Lucky before he runs onto a highway. Lucky is Lily’s last link to her mother who left them with her grandparents when she was two. Lily and her grandfather thank Salma at the migrant camp with a pork dinner pie. The girls bond over their love of dogs and painting.  Salma helps Lily paint wooden bee hives to raise money for an operation to save Lucky’s eyesight. When Salma decides to enter the Blueberry Queen Pageant, something a bilingual Hispanic migrant girl has not done before, Lily becomes aware of the town’s biases. Through their enduring friendship, both girls find their own inner strengths .

What I love about A Handful of Stars:

Cynthia Lord delivers a magical and richly textured story about an unlikely friendship between Lily, a French Canadian, and Salma, a Hispanic-American.  She draws her readers into the story with that great opening sentence (above) that begs the reader to want to know more.

I love that Lord continues to use her home state of Maine as the setting for many of her stories. She paints a vivid picture of the blueberry barrens of eastern Maine. Readers will learn a little history about the Mason bees that pollinate the blueberries and gardens, the raking of the wild Maine blueberries by migrant workers, and the top of a blueberry is shaped like a star. Readers will also gain insight into the lives of migrant children and how hard it is to be uprooted.

Lord is a master at developing memorable characters. Readers will easily connect with Lily and Salma’s struggles, longings and hopes. Lily and Lucky live with her grandparents. Lily feels the loss of her mother, who is deceased. Lucky is Lily’s last link to her mother, so she is determined to earn money and save his eyesight. Salma is imaginative and artistic, but secretly longs to belong and stay in one place.   Their friendship will test and carry them to a new self-confidence and healing.

The plot is realistic with the right amount of tension that will keep readers turning pages. Lord seamlessly weaves many themes into this touching story: migrant families, cultural differences, biases, community, loss, letting go and accepting change. There is a wonderful twist in the plot of the story, so readers will be pleasantly surprised with the ending.

A Handful of Stars is a perfect summer read. The cultural themes will encourage many lively discussions. Visit Cynthia Lord at her website.

Cynthia Lord is the award-winning author of Rules, a Newbery Honor book and a Schneider Family Book Award winner. She is also the author Half a Chance, Touch Blue, and the Shelter Pet Squad chapter book series.

Half a Chance by Cynthia Lord

Half a Chance9780545035330_p0_v2_s260x420Half a Chance

Cynthia Lord, Author

Scholastic Press, Fiction, Feb. 25, 2014

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Moving, Photography, Friendship, Dementia

Synopsis: Twelve-year-old Lucy Emery’s family has moved to an old cottage on a New Hampshire lake. Her father is a famous photographer and takes off on another travel shoot before the family settles. Lucy misses her father and is tired of starting over again.  When she discovers that her father is judging a photography contest for youth, she is eager to enter to see if she has talent.  She enters anonymously. She studies the photo scavenger hunt list and begins to take photos of her new lake surroundings. Lucy meets her neighbor Nate and his family, who visit their  Grandmother Lilah at her cottage every summer. Nate likes Lucy’s photographs and wants to help her with the contest. Lucy enjoys being with Nate’s family and learns that his grandmother is a naturalist. Since Grandmother Lilah is in poor health, Nate invites Lucy to help with the family “Loon Patrol.” Their goal is to help keep the endangered loons safe, carefully document their activity in a journal and report their findings. Lucy photographs the loons and  the birth of their chicks. Through her photos of the loons, the mountains, the lake and the community, Lucy also captures pictures of Grandmother’ Lilah’s memory loss, something that Nate’s not ready to see.

Why I like this book: This is a heartwarming coming of age story by Cynthia Lord, author of the 2007 Newbery Honor book Rules. It is a lazy summer read that is so captivating that you feel like you’re there with Lucy, Nate and the lake. Half a Chance is packed with adventure, wonder, friendship, artistic endeavors, and nature. Lord’s characters are realistic and engaging. The story is narrated by Lucy who gives readers a good feel for life on the lake. She struggles with ambivalence towards her father and a need for him to notice her photographic work. She encounters rivalry and the complexities of new friendships. Nate deals with Grandmother Lilah’s dementia. The plot is well-paced and readers won’t want the story to end. It is a fresh concept for a story with a satisfying ending. I highly recommend this book for tweens. Click here to visit Cynthia Lord’s website.

Rules — Autism Awareness Month

 In wrapping up Worldwide Autism Awareness Month, I wanted to end my children’s book reviews with Rules, by Cynthia Lord.   This is a chapter book for children in grades 4-7, published by Scholastic Press.  The author won the Newberry Honor and the Schneider Family Book Awards in 2009.   Lord, is the mother of two children, one of whom has autism.  She is also a former teacher and behavioral specialist.

The book cover says it all, “No toys in the fish tank!”   It is one of many rules, that 12-year-old, Catherine has made up to help her autistic brother, David, understand his  world.  There are others too:  Flush!   A boy can’t  take off his pants in public.  This is Catherine’s room.  David must knock!  It’s okay to hug Mom, but not the clerk at the video store.  Don’t chew your food with your mouth open.

Rules, is a very convincing story about the challenges for siblings living with a brother/sister with autism.  For Catherine, it’s about wanting to live a normal life, which is not possible when life revolves around David.  Catherine is an endearing character, struggling with her own identity and wanting to have friends.  She has all the normal feelings of resentment, anger, embarrassment, frustration and jealousy that siblings share.   A diagnosis of autism is very hard on siblings.

Yet for  Catherine, it becomes a fine balancing act.   She loves and fiercely protects her brother, but she also has wants and dreams for herself.    A lot for a 12-year-old girl to handle, as she is attempting to come into her own.  The  rules begin to blur for Catherine as she becomes involved in other friendships.  You begin to wonder who she has really written the rules for — David or herself.   In the end, what is important to Catherine is that everyone is different in their own way.  And, that is okay.

This book is an inspirational read for siblings and their parents, and an exceptional  discussion book for  teachers and students.