A Handful of Stars – my notes in preparation for a book club discussion

As I read this book, I had a pen and post-it notes in hand and I made sure to be aware of my thinking. In total, I made 33 jots. That doesn’t seem like too much for a 184 page book. But I will admit, I am more of a plot-junkie kind of reader. As a teacher, I’ve taught that as you read, you should stop and jot to make your reading more visible and then so you can sort your thoughts and look for patterns. But personally, I rarely do this work.

But I was motivated to try such work after reading a blog posting by a friend I follow on twitter (and who I just had the honor of meeting in person Saturday), Julianne  –  her blog post

She is attending the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project’s Writing Institute and her blog made me think that with summer starting, I need to get back into reading like I want my students to read and not just reading quickly for the plot. Julianne also suggested that we have a virtual book club around this book as a few of us bought the book while together last Saturday. I am not sure HOW to have a virtual book club but I told her I was in and now I have read the book and made 33 post-it notes….

As I read, I stopped a few times to do a little research to understand what was happening and to help make a clearer movie in my mind.

One of the characters is Salma and her family is visiting Maine as migrant workers from Florida who use a blueberry rake to harvest the blueberries. A rake?? I couldn’t picture it so I went to google images:

Now I understand better the work that Salma and her family did, day after day to harvest blueberries.

Google also helped me in the beginning when the narrator, Lily, spoke with Pepere and Memere and Memere suggested that Lily give a tourtiere to Salma as a thank you. I quickly discovered these are all French words and since Maine, the setting of this story, is so close to Quebec, a French-speaking country in Canada, I better understood the background of the characters.
Pepere = grandpa
Memere = grandma
tourtiere = meat pie.

I tell people that I don’t read much nonfiction…yet, I realize now that I was reading nonfiction through my google searches to better understand my fiction story. Good for me!!

As Julianne suggests in her blog, my next step now is to look back through my notes and look for patterns, questions and theories.

I do see patterns emerging around the characters – Salma and Lily, the grandparents, the vet, and Lily’s friend, Hannah. I think I could grow a theory about these characters, how and why they change.

I jotted a question before even starting the book, as I looked at the cover – A Handful of Stars? What does that have to do with a dog that can balance a blueberry on his nose? Now that I’ve finished the book, I think I could write a long answer to my first question.

On page 4, I wrote – Why do they need each other? Salma, Lucky (dog) and the narrator (Lily).
Again, now that I have finished, I think I could answer this.

On page 5 it says, “I don’t usually talk to those kids and they don’t usually talk to me.” I think I could build a theory around the idea of diversity and mixing with different kinds of people.

Once I finished the book I jotted that this is a beautiful story about friendship and overcoming loneliness and overcoming differences. I think I could say/write more about this.

I think I have things to say about this book….however, I know I need to do much more thinking.
I need to sort my post-its and really think about the characters and the changes they go through. And then I need to ask, what is the author really trying to teach me through this book.

Confession: This is hard work and I plan to think about it more tomorrow….

To learn more about the author, Cynthia Lord, check out her WEBSITE.
I have read ALL of her novels and I loved them ALL, including this latest book!

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