When I think of blueberries I recall fresh muffins dotted with soft butter, creamy cheesecake, and warm pie with a scoop of ice cream and my dad. By far my father's favorite fruit in dessert was blueberries. He loved cheesecake topped with blueberry sauce. The first two-crust pie I ever learned to bake was blueberry. When you accomplish the right combination of tart and sweet, it's like tasting a little bit of heaven.
For others blueberries represent a way to make a living by harvesting them. For entire communities, they offer a seasonal focus. In Cynthia Lord's newest title, A Handful of Stars (Scholastic Press, May 26, 2015) blueberries attract and rely on the work of a particular type of bee. These bees in turn give a girl the chance to help her best friend to regain his eyesight.
The only reason I ever spoke to Salma Santiago was because my dog ate her lunch.
Sometimes life is like a long road leading from one "if" to another.
Twelve-year-old Tigerlily (Lily) has never known a day without Lucky being a part of it. The now blind black Labrador came with her and her mom ten years ago when they returned to Maine. With Mama gone, Lily has been living with Memere and Pepere in the apartment over the general store they own and run.
Having slipped his collar Lucky is running like the wind over the blueberry barrens; Lily trying every trick in the book to get him to stop. The quick thinking of one of the migrant workers raking the blueberry bushes gets Lucky to stop. There's nothing quite like the whiff of peanut butter and the crunch of potato chips to stop a dog in his tracks.
At Memere's insistence, with her grandfather, Lily enters the migrant camp for the first time bringing a local specialty meat pie meal to Lucky's savior. As Lily and Salma, also twelve, officially meet and exchange conversation, a spark of friendship begins. When Salma shows up at the general store the next morning, they find they have more in common than they might have thought.
Salma with a dream of furthering her education with a focus on art offers to help Lily paint her mason bee houses. Selling these will raise money to help pay for corrective surgery for Lucky's blindness. Salma is willing to do anything to help Lucky, having lost her own dog.
During the course of the weeks shared by the two girls, readers find themselves witnessing the changes in Lily, her two-peas-in-a-pod best friend, Hannah, who seems to not share interests with Lily any longer, Lily's grandmother and the community. Both Lily and Salma challenge themselves personally by participating in activities never experienced before this year. In a beautiful, yes breathtaking, conclusion over the course of two days, love triumphs.
By page five I was placing small post-it notes in my copy of this book. Cynthia Lord has a magical way of creating visual landscapes with her words whether we are inside a general store or outside in the local cemetery. We are drawn into the story experiencing the same surroundings as the characters.
Through Lily's thoughts and the dialogue of the other characters we come to understand each individual's personality. Page by page Lord shows us the layers which make each person who they are. We truly care for all of them whether they are initially likable or not. I would be remiss (at Xena's urging) if I did not mention how aptly Lucky and his behavior are portrayed. Cynthia Lord definitely has a special place in her heart for animals understanding them as if she speaks with them on a daily basis. Here are a few of the marked passages from the book.
Even though he couldn't see it, Lucky was on that blueberry like a seagull on a French fry. His eyes used to be black with a twinkle in them, but now they're blue-ish gray. They don't even look like they belong to him. It's like someone just traded out his sparkling black eyes and left blue marbles instead.
Dr. Katz smiled. "Pink bees?"
I nodded. "It's different."
"Different can be good," Dr. Katz said. "It makes you pay attention."
I stood up. "Remember that day we were swinging at camp? I was feeling a bit scared, and I realized something. To do brave things, you don't have to be hugely brave. You only have to be a little bit braver than you are scared. Give me your hand."
With eloquence Cynthia Lord tells a story of friendship and family in A Handful of Stars. With pure mastery she blends two worlds, a girl who has suffered loss but has stability in her grandparents and her community and a girl with imagination who will always move with the seasons, never living in the same place for any length of time. I guarantee this book will resonate with all readers. I believe this would be an excellent read aloud.
Please follow the link attached to Cynthia Lord's name to access her website. There you can enjoy learning about her other work. Follow this link Andrea Skyberg|Author Artist for a tour of Cynthia Lord's studio and an interview. John Schumacher, teacher librarian extraordinaire, interviews Cynthia Lord at Watch. Connect. Read.