Some books grab you from the very first lines and hold on to your heart page after page. That’s how I felt reading these lines from Cynthia Lord’s A Handful of Stars
: “The only reason I ever spoke to Salma Santiago was because my dog ate her lunch. Sometimes life is like a long road leading from one “if” to another”. That was it, I knew that this was going to be another winner from Cynthia Lord, another wise and powerful story that would join the copies of her Rules
, Half a Chance
, and Touch Blue
, being passed from one lucky sixth grader to the next.
Lily (short for Tigerlily, a name chosen for Lily by her late mother, and one that this particular twelve year old has misgivings about) lives with her grandparents among the windswept blueberry barrens of Maine. Her blind dog Lucky, all she has left to remember her mother by, takes off one afternoon and is rescued by Salma, a migrant worker who has come to Maine with her family to work in the blueberry fields. Lily and Salma, whose lives seem so different, find much in common: both are determined and compassionate, and both have experienced loss. Lily feels a great hole in her heart – she misses her mother, and feels her absence. Salma has never known what it is like to live in one place, once the growing and picking season begins, she and her family leave their home in Florida and move with the crops – Pennsylvania for apples, Maine for blueberries.
But two goals bring the girls together for the summer: Lily wants to make and decorate as many bee houses as she can to sell at the annual Blueberry Festival, so that she can pay for Lucky to have an operation that may restore his sight. And Salma wants to win the first prize of a $5,000 saving’s bond at the festival’s Pageant Queen competition, so that she can begin a college fund.
I absolutely love the way Cynthia Lord writes, weaving keen observations and insight into an engrossing story. The blueberry barrens of Maine are entirely unfamiliar to me, but I learned so much about all things blueberry through Lily’s story – an added bonus! Best of all, this is a warm and lovely story. Lily may have lost her mother, but her grandparents love her and she knows the comfort of steady and sustaining love. Salma may not know economic certainty or the satisfaction of having one place to call home, but her parents love her and are there for her. I always appreciate the fact that Lord’s books have adults who behave as adults ought to, as we hope they would: they are reliable and constant, whatever their quirks may be. I sometimes tire of the steady stream of dysfunctional parents who seem to people so much of YA literature these days; goodness knows that they exist in real life, but our kids need to read about a few (at least) adults who take their responsibilities seriously, and who behave with compassion and patience.
I was saving A Handful of Stars for my first summer read, now I can hardly wait to book talk it in September! My kids will love reading this book, and I think it will be the perfect book to read aloud and begin a new school year with.
Here’s a link to a recent interview in which Cynthia Lord talks about writing, and about A Handful of Stars: