Tuesday, January 20, 2015

'Stella by Starlight' set in 1932 in segregated town of Bumblebee, N.C.


At first glance, "Stella by Starlight" is a whimsical-looking middle-grade novel with silhouettes of two black children near a frozen pond under starlight.

Wait! That's not a cozy bonfire across that pond where the children can roast marshmallows. There's a cross in the middle of that blaze.

Author Sharon M. Draper lives in Cincinnati, Ohio, and sets the  book in the fictional town of Bumblebee, N.C., modeled on the town where Draper's dad grew up.

It's "a place in the segregated South," where Stella, a fifth-grader, can go into some stores and not others. Where some folks are pleasant and others are not.
"To Stella, it sort of evens out, and heck, the Klan hasn't bothered them for years."                                                                                                                            

Draper is a New York Times bestselling author ("Out of My Mind") and she says on her web page that she used to visit her grandmother in this little town, "tucked in the rocky bottom of the Blue Ridge Mountains," near Spindale.

"Roosters crowed at dawn," Draper writes. "Our breakfast milk came warm from the cow, our eggs fresh from the chicken’s nests. I remember hot apple pie, cold watermelon slices, and sugar sweet tea. And the stories. After the sun faded into darkness, and fireflies blinked in the yard, everyone would gather on Grandma Estelle’s porch and listen to the old folks tell tales—funny memories, harsh realities, family treasures, and sometimes big fat whoppers."

Underline the words "harsh realities."

Bumblebee in 1932 is not only segregated, but the Klan still terrorizes black families.


"Every Negro family in Bumblebee knew the unwritten rules -- they had to take care of their own problems and take care of one another. Help from the white community was neither expected nor considered. It was as it always had been."

The night the Klan shows up, Stella recognizes the white physician's horse as the one leading the pack.

Draper's grandmother, Estelle Twitty Mills Davis, died in 1983 and left Draper her only journal and became for her granddaughter both muse and spirit guide. "She is my Stella by Starlight," Draper says.

Kirkus Review says; "A tale of Jim Crow South that's  not sugar coated but effective, with a trustworthy narrator who opens her heart and reader's eyes."

Draper has received the Coretta Scott King Award for both "Copper Sun" and "Forged by Fire," and "Out of My Mind" has been a New York Times bestseller for more than a year.


When: Wed., Jan. 21
Time: 7 p.m.
Where: Quail Ridge Books, 3522 Wade Avenue, Raleigh, N.C., 27607
Cost: Free and open to the public