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Explore the Power of Words in Fiction and Nonfiction: February 2017 Intermediate

January 25th, 2017 | Posted by etownsend in 2016-2017 | Intermediate (Grades 3-5) | February

Stella by Starlight by Sharon M. Draper. Atheneum, 2015

After 11-year-old Stella and her little brother, Jojo, see the burning cross and the men in white, members of the African American community in their small North Carolina town gather at Stella’s house to discuss the danger, but the rhythm of life continues: The kids go to school, the adults go about their work. When Stella’s dad, the preacher, and a neighbor named Mr. Spencer register to vote—a decision made after careful consideration and tense debate—the retaliation is swift and awful: Mr. Spencer’s house is set on fire. But neighbors rally, including a few whites, to care for the family. This strong, resilient community graces Sharon Draper’s compelling story set during the Depression with a profound sense of comfort. So, too, do the finely drawn characters. Stella, her family, and most of her neighbors feel like friends one can count on in a story grounded in Stella’s perspective. In addition to the racism that is a daily and unsettling part of life, Stella is facing a much more personal challenge, working hard to get better at writing. Although it doesn’t come easily, she is driven to improve, and this portrait of an emerging writer beginning to understand the power of putting words and ideas on paper is notable and gratifying.  © Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Start some conversation with these discussion prompts:

  1. How is Stella’s life different from the lives of the kids who live in town?
  2. How is her father’s involvement in voting an act of bravery? Have you seen your parents vote?
  3. Describe the Stella’s community. How do the people in her community support one another?
  4. How does it make you feel to see Stella’s writing process throughout the story? How have you seen your writing progress throughout the school year?

The Book Itch: Freedom, Truth & Harlem’s Greatest Bookstore by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson. Illustrated by R. Gregory Christie. Carolrhoda, 2015

Vaunda Micheaux Nelson revisits the topic of Lewis Michaux and the National Memorial African Bookstore that were the subject of her singular young adult novel No Crystal Stair, here introducing her great uncle and his Harlem store in a picture book told in the engaging fictionalized voice of Lewis Michaux’s son. Young Louie shares the history of the store, which his father could not get a bank loan to open because the banker believed “Black people don’t read.” And he shares a sense of the vibrant, vivid gathering place the store is, with its “zillion books” by Black people—African Americans, Africans—and others who aren’t white; with its many visitors from the famous (Muhammad Ali, Malcolm X) to the anonymous (the boy who spends every Saturday reading at the store); with its readings and rallies; a place of activism and action. Read to learn, his father tells him, and to learn how “to figure out for yourself what is true.” In the aftermath of Malcolm X’s death, Louie is comforted by his father’s reminder that “His words will never leave us.” And Louie thinks about the importance of words, and the importance of their bookstore as a place to find them in a picture book strikingly illustrated by R. Gregory Christie. Nelson tells more about the store, which closed in 1975, and her personal connection, in end material that includes photographs and a bibliography. ©2015 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

Start some conversation with these discussion prompts:

  1. Pre-reading: Who was Malcolm X?
  2. Why do you think the author choose “Book Itch” as the title? What multiple meanings do you see for the word “itch” in the book?
  3. What do you think was the impact of the National Memorial African Bookstore in Harlem? In the United States? Why do you think so many famous people visited the National Memorial African Bookstore?
  4. Is there a message in the end-pages that speaks to you?
  5. After reading: How was Malcolm X different from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.? Why is each leader important?

Find discussion guides and more for Stella by Starlight and Book Itch at TeachingBooks.net!

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