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Book Review

Stella by Starlight by Sharon M. Draper has been reviewed by Focus on the Family’s marriage and parenting magazine.

Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

Other Negative Elements


Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Eleven-year-old Stella Mills lives in Bumblebee, North Carolina, in 1932. When she and her 8-year-old brother, Jojo, walk by the pond late one evening, they see a terrifying sight. Men in white robes are burning a cross. The kids tell their parents, who assemble black men in the community immediately.

Readers learn about the segregation between the blacks and whites in Bumblebee. The white children attend one school, with better facilities and materials, while the black school receives the white school’s hand-me-downs. The only black doctor is the father of Stella’s friend, Tony Hawkins. The white physician, Dr. Packard, only treats white people. After seeing the Klansmen’s horses, Stella feels certain Dr. Packard is one of them.

As anxieties rise within the black community, the residents welcome a visit from traveling salesmen and storyteller, Spoon Man. Stella’s mama arranges a potluck, and everyone listens to Spoon Man’s story about an eagle that thinks he’s a chicken and doesn’t realize he can fly.

Mama tells Stella she knows the girl has been sneaking out at night. Stella tells Mama about her interest in writing, despite the trouble she has putting her thoughts on paper at school. She says she likes to write under the stars. Stella writes an article about the Klan after her teacher, Mrs. Grayson, urges students to submit work for a newspaper contest.

Pastor Patton gives an impassioned speech one Sunday about standing up for one’s rights. He says he’s going to town to register to vote, and he invites people to join him. Stella’s father and Mr. Spencer decide to go, and Stella’s father lets her come along. The white men in charge of voter registration try to make the process as difficult as possible for the men of color. They give them a test and charge them a high fee. Papa’s group makes it clear they’re not leaving until they are approved to vote. They even sit and sing while waiting. The white men finally approve them to get them to go away.

The Klan continues to appear in town. They burn down Mr. Spencer’s home to punish him for registering to vote. The Spencers have 13 children, and one, named Hazel, goes missing in the chaos. While the black community and a few white neighbors try to put out the fire, Stella looks in the spot she suspects Hazel would hide. She brings Hazel back safely. Everyone calls Stella a hero, and the pastor even lauds her from the pulpit. The grateful Mrs. Spencer gives Stella a typewriter.

On voting day, a large group of people go to town with Papa, the pastor and Mr. Spencer. Stella is disappointed when her article doesn’t win the newspaper contest, but she decides to use her typewriter to create her own newspaper, Stella’s Star Sentinel. Tony and Stella go to town to get medicine for Jojo when he’s sick, and Tony is attacked by two white men. He isn’t badly hurt, but he’s shaken up.

Stella and Jojo look for their mother one day and discover she’s been bitten by a rattlesnake. Tony’s father is out of town, and they desperately need antivenom. Papa sends Stella to plead with Dr. Packard, but he rudely refuses to help a black person. Stella’s family agonizes, until they learn one of the kind white neighbor women with a car has driven to find Dr. Hawkins and bring him back. He gives Mama antivenom in time, but she walks with a limp afterward.

Shortly thereafter, Stella sees someone drowning in the lake and jumps in to save her. When she realizes she has rescued Dr. Packard’s daughter, Paulette, Stella is angry. Paulette tells Stella about the doctor’s abusive behavior toward her and her mother. Paulette hates her father’s Klan activity and says she thinks Stella should tell everyone what Dr. Packard has done.

The story ends with a botched but joyful nativity scene at the Christmas pageant. Stella shares some of her writing about hopes for the future.

Christian Beliefs

Stella and her family are active members of New Hope Church. The cross on their building is crooked because lightning struck it, and Pastor Patton says it is a blessing from heaven. Pastor Patton gives a lot of sermons on Moses because of the parallel between his story and the plight of black Americans. He urges the congregants to exercise their rights by registering to vote, and he tells them he will be doing this himself.

After Stella finds Hazel and brings her to safety, the pastor uses Stella as a sermon illustration for her bravery. Stella prays for her mother after the snake bite and thanks God for the antivenom that keeps Mama alive. The schoolchildren do a nativity play at the Christmas pageant.

Other Belief Systems


Authority Roles

Stella’s parents are community-minded, resourceful people who encourage her in her desire to write. Pastor Patton urges the townspeople to stand up for their rights. He practices his preaching by leading a group to voter registration in town. Mrs. Grayson sees Stella’s potential and urges her to write. The white doctor and other white town leaders use spiteful words and violence in their attempts to keep the black community members in a state of fear and inactivity.


The Lord’s name is used in vain a few times. The Ku Klux Klan burns down the Spencer home. Paulette tells Stella that her father frequently hits her and her mother, but the violence is not described in detail. Stella also remembers Dr. Packard slapping her when she was little for accidentally getting mud on his shoes.



Discussion Topics

Get free discussion questions for this book and others, at FocusOnTheFamily.com/discuss-books.

Additional Comments/Notes

Racism: Many white people believe themselves superior to their black neighbors and treat them with contempt and cruelty.

Pledge of Allegiance: The schoolchildren recite the pledge without “under God.” (“Under God” was not added to the pledge until 1954, so the book is historically correct.)

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Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. The inclusion of a book's review does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.

Episode Reviews



Readability Age Range

9 to 13


Sharon M. Draper






Record Label



Atheneum Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division, a registered trademark of Simon & Schuster


On Video

Year Published



ALA Notable Children’s Books, 2016; International Literacy Association Teachers’ Choice, 2016; and others


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