A Handful of Stars
Reviewed by Lucinda Hathaway
By Cynthia Lord. Scholastic Press, 2015. 192 pages. $16.99/hardcover or eBook. Recommended for ages 8–12.
Under a towering ash tree in my Maine yard is a tiny patch of wild blueberries. On a lark, I go out and crouch low over the berries and can usually pick enough to have on my morning cereal. I planted a lupine in my garden, and now the birds have planted blueberries in the yard, if only a moose would visit. Reading this lovely book set in Maine confirmed my love for the state and my utter content in being there.
Cynthia Lord takes you to Maine with her story, her words, and her stalwart ideas of learning, changing, and trying new things. She says, “Different can be good. . . . It makes you pay attention.” Do children instinctively know that? Or do they need a little reminder once in a while? This story opens doors to new ideas, new friends, and the opportunity to embrace difference.
Tigerlily is the name of the main character. She is about 12 years old, and I can only imagine how hard it is to live with that name. She only allows one person to call her Tigerlily; the rest call her Lily. That gives a little hint to the fact that Lily likes to fit in and doesn’t want to call attention to herself. As with many bystanders she makes friends with “stars.” Her best friend since childhood is the reigning Blueberry Queen, Hannah. Lily’s mother was the Queen three years in a row, not Lily. Hannah and Lily have fallen out of being best friends this summer.
Enter Salma, a migrant worker in Maine to pick blueberries. The book explains what she does, how she lives, and why blueberries need to be picked by hand and how. It gives you insight into another world in Maine that most people do not see or think about as they pour the maple syrup on their blueberry pancakes or slather a blueberry muffin with butter. Lily and Salma join forces to be a contributing part of the blueberry festival by introducing something different, something that causes people to pay attention.
This story embraces change while cherishing the past and the status quo. Forget about my pedagogical pontificating and rest assured it is a wonderful story of good people and a story young readers will race through to see how it ends. It also gives teachers lots to talk about, and there are good lessons to learn.
I will gladly pass this on to my grandson even though the characters are mostly girls and he may grumble at that. Once he realizes the story applies to all kids—he is smart, so he will know—I think he might grudgingly say, “Good story, Granny!” That’s all we want to hear. Remember “Different can be good. . . . It makes you pay attention.” That is a good lesson for all of us.