So, when I had the opportunity to review an audio book for Recorded Books and A Handful of Stars was one of the selections, I jumped at the chance.
I wonder if elementary or middle grade teachers asked their students who the protagonist of this story is, who would they choose? Would they pick Tiger Lily, who has lived with her French Canadian grandparents in a small town in Maine ever since her mother's death when she was a young girl? Young readers might (correctly!) identify that Lily's desire to save her beloved dog Lucky's eyesight is a central problem; the conflicts which Lily faces over her dog and being the right kind of friend makes her the protagonist.
Or would they pick Salma, a migrant farm worker in town to pick blueberries for the summer with her family, who not only shows Lily a truth she didn't want to see about Lucky, but also teaches her about art, courage, and what it means to work hard to follow your dreams?
Then again, I can imagine a spunky fourth grader volunteering that the true protagonist is Lucky. Because if he hadn't run away from Lily, she might never have met Salma. He was responsible for bringing the two girls together in an unlikely, but special friendship that is central to this story.
There you go. Now that you have some teasers, here are a few favorite parts:
In order to save money for Lucky's eye operation, Lily sells painted bee houses in her grandparents' store. She stencils on three different patterns and carefully paints each one to realistically resemble blueberries, leaves, or flowers. When Salma volunteers to help, she thinks outside the stencils. Her blueberries are pink or purple and the results shock Lily. When Salma says she loves art because there are different ways of looking at the world and there are no wrong answers, Lily's thinking is challenged.
Proof of the pudding is when Lily goes outside her normal way of painting a bee house and decides to paint a Tiger Lily (first wondering if it a flower or a weed) without using a stencil. When she is done, she admits it's not perfect, but signs her name anyway. This time she created art.
Another favorite plot point is the empathy Lily develops when she learns that her mother, a French Canadian, struggled to feel as if she belonged in the little Maine town. Understanding her mother's history enables Lily to see the obstacles facing Salma as she competes in the local Blueberry Queen pageant.
Finally, she remembers her grandfather's advice to be brave and passes it along to Salma at the pageant: "To do brave things you don't have to be hugely brave. You just have to be a bit braver than you are scared," is so delicious that I have to include it here too.