I thought it was another dog book, and I’m not much of a dog book fan. But it was Cynthia Lord, whose book Rules is a wonderful story of a girl and her autistic brother, so I thought I’d give a try. It’s only 184 pages of large bold print with double spacing that will draw in reluctant and timid readers.
And, yes, the story does feature a girl and her blind dog, Lily (aka Tigerlily) and Lucky. But it’s really about the friendship that develops between Lily and the Hispanic migrant girl, Salma, who saves Lucky’s life when he runs away through the blueberry filed where Salma is raking blueberries. The story takes place in Maine, and there’s a lot of information about blueberries in the book, too. Lily is a fully developed character with a cautious personality, suspicious of change. And Salma is an artist, bold and full of ideas, but she’s still human enough and young enough to get scared when she thinks she’s gotten herself in too deep by entering the local Downeast Blueberry Queen contest.
Perfect for third and fourth graders, A Handful of Stars stands out among all the series books and fantasy tomes and problem novels as a simple story about a dog, and friendship, and figuring out how to allow some things to change while holding on to what’s good about life as it is. There are problems, of course, as Lily feels she is losing her old friend, Hannah, even as she’s not sure she understands her new friend, Salma. And it’s hard to earn enough money to pay for the operation that Lily wants to restore Lucky’s sight. But everything comes out right in the end, and Lily grows a little and so do Salma and even Hannah.
Highly recommended, and I would like to see a book like this one win the Newbery award. Books for younger readers have been slighted and overlooked in the Newbery Award ever since Sarah Plain and Tall (1986) and The Whipping Boy (1987), although a few have won Newbery Honors.