Review: Stella By Starlight

stella-by-starlight-9781442494978_lgStella by Starlight made me hungry. A third of the way in I was craving hush puppies, mustard greens, and the Mississippi voices of my childhood.

I love it when a good book does that to you.

Set in Bumblebee, North Carolina, on the eve of F.D.R.’s election, Stella by Starlight draws the 1930’s South exactly as it was — separate and intentionally unequal. Eleven-year-old Stella Mills dreams of a different future, caught in world determined not to let her have it. Sharon Draper’s novel is peppered with memorable characters and description so well-crafted I had to make cornbread to stop my craving:


Parents and teachers should be prepared for some hard conversations about the inequality of Jim Crow laws, a mention of lynching, and some difficult scenes of violence against both adults and children. Even though the novel addresses some very dark themes, Draper keeps the story relatable and grounded. Injustice and blatant racism are juxtaposed with the every day — chores, bad grades, and a burgeoning crush on the neighbor boy. The end result is a story about the strength of community and hope for the future.  Stella by Starlight is a must-read for every fifth grade child, and for every adult who never had to live in fear of a burning cross in the night. It is a reminder of how far we have come as a nation, and a reminder of why we must never go back. This is a perfect choice for Black History month, or for a cold winter Saturday when you want to curl up with coffee and cornbread.

Review: Frannie K. Stein

blocks_image_0_1“Jim Benton is the creator of thousands of original characters appearing in books, magazines, television, online  — and has been hailed as ‘the most visible cartoonist in America’ by People Magazine“* — none of which matters to you when you are seven. What does matter is finding a series that is funny, slightly naughty, and just challenging enough to keep you engaged. The Frannie K. Stein  series delivers.

My first grader is a Captain Underpants fan, and as she was nearing the end of that series I started to get worried. If you are a first grade girl who reads above grade level your literary choices often involve mermaids, fairies, mermaids who are fairies, fairies who are also mermaids, and glitter. For a child who threw a tantrum when she found out they do not make Star Wars™ underwear for girls, glitter mermaid fairy books do not have a strong appeal.

Searching on-line for books similar to Captain Underpants, I stumbled across parent reviews of the Frannie K. Stein series. On Christmas morning my daughter was thrilled to find a whole new series of books (and yes, my kids are excited to get books for Christmas). She read the first book before the day was over and has flown through them in the weeks since.

The Frannie series has a ATOS/LEXILE/AR level of about 4th grade, and is appropriate for young readers who are ready to read above grade level. Frannie fits with the S.T.E.M. franniegoals of encouraging children (especially girls) to take an interest in science. As Frannie creates and solves problems in her lab, Benton’s humor and fantastic illustrations create a relatable strong female character who will leave young readers wanting more. Just look at her face– can’t you see the wonderful mischief she is plotting? Benton’s illustrations really do carry the stories, and as a bonus they help reluctant older readers stay engaged with the sometimes challenging text.

Don’t worry though– Frannie isn’t (usually) encouraging children to create mayhem. Her social awkwardness and inability to understand the “rules” everyone else seems to follow will appeal to children (and adults) wondering the same thing. Why can’t girls have Star Wars™ underwear?  And why does it always have to be pink when they finally do make it?

If your child has the same underwear conundrum, the Frannie K. Stein  series will be a perfect fit for your young reader. Thank you, Jim Benton, for creating such a great series!**

* Description from the Frannie K. Stein website

**My daughter told me to ask why there are only seven books, because she wants more. She isn’t impressed with how hard it is to write, illustrate, and publish a book — she wants book eight for Easter. So, you know, get right on that…

Mind the Gap

“I see your last job was in 2011? And before that you stopped work in 2003, is that right?”

No. I never stopped work. I stopped going to work, but never working. I take a breath, preparing to launch my well-rehearsed answer.

I was an attorney, and then there were children, and now I am here…

I look at the gap on my resumé and worry about the questions I know will weigh heavily against me. Why did she leave? What kind of person works that hard for a career and then just leaves it? What’s wrong with her?

Probably a lot of things, but that’s not why I walked away. The first time I held my daughter she was a year old, left in an orphanage at birth on the other side of the world. I kissed her tiny cheek and she started in surprise, and I realized no one had ever kissed her before.  In that moment who I had been ended, and there was no choice between work and her. I would be a mother with the same ferocity I had had as a lawyer — I would heal her, I would heal us both.

I left because I wanted to, because I had the option and I took it. I spent a decade covered in Cheerios and boogers, reading thousands of hours of Sandra Boynton and rocking a colicky baby and a preschooler. I stepped out of one world and into another, and I am vastly better for it.

That gap on my resumé isn’t an empty void, a sign of something wrong — it is a sign I did something exactly right. I gave these two little people so much love and attention that now they don’t need me as much, and there is space for me again. I am filling this new time with words and books, and coffee, and bags of M&M’s. There is some hummus, but really, it’s mostly just M&M’s.

I look down the road to where I want to be and again, there is no choice. This is where I want to be, writing and telling stories. This is my new work. I don’t care if it is paid or not — I write stories and silly poems every day, read and review kidlit, and avoid housework. I am happy.*

*But I’d be even happier if you want to hire me. wink wink