For kids, summer is a time for fun — and also a time for change. Who can forget dashing off from middle school for summer break, then returning a couple months later and seeing friends who no longer looked like their former selves? All of a sudden, the boys were a foot taller and the girls were growing in all directions. And, sometimes the friends we thought we’d be friends with forever turned out to (sadly) outgrow us.
So I was intrigued to see that author Cynthia Lord’s newest novel is set during the summertime. Lord’s earlier works include the award-winning and Newbery Honor book, Rules, as well as several other children’s books.
A Handful of Stars takes readers on a journey in which a young girl experiences a summer that opens her eyes to the complexity of life and the meaning of friendship, loss and acceptance.
Set in rural Maine, in a town famous for its wild blueberries, the book tells the story of 12-year-old Lily Dumont. Lily lives above the general store operated by her grandparents, who are raising her following the death of her mother a decade earlier.
The store serves locals, tourists and the migrant families who tend to the blueberry fields.
Lily is doing what she usually does — helping her grandparents run the store — when one day her blind dog, Lucky, gets loose from his collar. Lucky runs across one of the blueberry fields, and a young girl harvesting blueberries rescues the wayward pooch.
The girl, Salma Santiago, and Lily soon discover they both enjoy painting, and they bond while spending time in the Dumont family’s shop, decorating bee houses for the store to sell.
Saddened by the dog’s disability, the friends devise a plan to sell enough bee houses to pay for Lily’s dream — an operation to fix Lucky’s eyes. But the plan is what Lily calls “big thinking” and it scares her. Salma has a “big thinking” dream of her own — to win the town’s Blueberry Queen pageant. Slowly, the two girls guide each other toward taking risks despite being afraid.
Throughout the story, in which Lord imparts mini life-lessons, Lily navigates the tricky waters of friendship. She enjoys Salma’s company while at the same time missing her old-best-friend, Hannah, whose attention has moved from their usual favorite activities to a new focus on boys.
Lord paints vivid descriptions of the town, making it easy to picture the vast blueberry fields, colorful bee houses, and bustling general store. Her richly drawn characters are believable and likable, and it’s not tough to want to see everyone come out a winner.
A Handful of Stars is geared toward kids ages 8 to 12, and is perfect for independent readers as well as reading aloud at bedtime. It’s also fitting for right now, as kiddos ditch their backpacks and get ready for a summer packed with their own new adventures.
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