Stunning Picture Book is Perfect for this Season

The Gold Leaf by Kirsten Hall, illustrations by Matthew Forsythe. Enchanted Lion Books, Brooklyn New York, 2017.

Breathtaking. That was my first response when I came across this beautifully illustrated book. My granddaughter received it for her birthday and with all the celebrating going on around me, I couldn’t give it a proper read. But just leafing-no pun intended- through it, I was blown away. Ok, that last one was intentional.

The first page is wordless, just an illustration of the woods in winter. Or is it? There is a large tree on the right hand side of the double spread. But tip the book sideways and the tree looks a lot like a deer that shows up on the next page. See that hole in the tree? That’s his eye. And those branches on top? Those are his antlers. Turn the page and now you see two actual deer, waterfowl and baby birds being fed by Mama. Spring has arrived. Turn the page again and the text tells you the many colors of green that exist in the artwork, as well as in the season of Spring.

“Jungle green, laurel green, moss green, mint green, pine green, avocado green, and, of course, sap green.” All the while I am thinking of the many art lessons I could do with this book, if I were still teaching. The possibilities are endless!

A few pages in, that deer shows up again, as well as a squirrel and some rabbits. And what have they spotted? A gold leaf. From now on, when the gold leaf shows up, it looks exactly like gold leaf, the art form in which gold is pounded into thin sheets. The animals are fascinated by it. They all want it. But their greed causes them to keep snatching it away from each other and inevitably, the gold leaf shreds into countless tiny pieces.

“The forest grew still. The only sound was the wind rustling the leaves, which sent bits of gold swirling in every direction. With sorrow, the animals realized that their precious leaf was gone.”

Summer comes, then Autumn arrives, with all its many-colored leaves. Winter follows. The animals forget about their gold leaf. Spring arrives with even more colors of green.

“Something shone and sparkled.”

The gold leaf has returned. But this time, the animals do not fight over it. They are simply happy to have their gold leaf back. The second to last page is a double spread that shows the animals leaping through the greenery, and look! Some of them have turned golden! The final page pictures them as becoming part of a fanciful tree, as if they are happy to simply exist in nature, as of course, animals are. It is humans, after all, who fight over gold.

Pre-school teachers, art teachers, writing teachers–any teacher instructing students of any age could find myriad ways to use this wonderful book.  Parents can cuddle in their favorite chair and read it to the littlest ones as the text, which flows like poetry, is quite spare. And of course Autumn is the ideal season to read a book about leaves and seasons.

A note explains that “Kirsten Hall’s grandfather was responsible for the gold leafing of many famous gilded buildings in NYC, including Lincoln Center, Rockefeller Center, Carnegie Hall, and the Helmsley building.” This is a stunning book.

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Mari’s Hope a Suspenseful Conclusion to the Trilogy

Mari’s Hope by Sandy Brehl. Crickhollow Books/Crispin Books, Milwaukee, WI 2017.

“Suddenly the door to the main house flew open. Two soldiers burst out, tumbling off the steps and shouting at each other. She crouched beside the hedge, shivering as much from fear as from cold. A flash of moonlight pierced the night, revealing a drama playing out just a few meters away.”

Mari is on her way home one cold Norwegian night during the German Occupation of World War II. But it is not really her home anymore. German soldiers moved in over two years ago and Mari’s family lives instead in her grandmother’s small cottage next door. She is unsure what the “ruckus” she has just witnessed means, but it is just another incident in a long list of frightening dramas played out every day under German Occupation. As she enters the cottage and finds no one home she knows that her mother and grandmother are still in the main house cleaning up after the Germans evening meal. They often linger with their cleaning to glean useful information from overheard conversations between the soldiers. Her father, too, is not yet home. He undoubtedly stopped at the home of trusted contacts in the Resistance. For Mari’s part, she locks the door and takes out the forbidden radio that is always hidden. She will listen to the BBC broadcast. This is the Resistance in Occupied Norway.

In Mari’s Hope, the third book of a trilogy, author Sandy Brehl has deftly managed to add mystery and suspense into a story whose historical conclusion we all know. The Occupation has made life hard in the town of Ytre Arna. Food and medical supplies are scarce. Mari’s fourteenth birthday is approaching but she knows there will be no possibility of a celebration. But there are surprises along the way. She takes on a secret mission which enables her to travel to Bergen, a large city where her sister and her husband live. And people who seemed to be one thing, she realizes, can also be another. Sometimes things are not what they seem.

This novel, with its well written prose and suspenseful plot will keep lovers of historical fiction—of all ages—glued to the page.

Sandy has two book release parties coming up: Boswell Books, 7:00 PM September 14 and October 1, 2:00 PM Hales Corner Library.

A Conversation with Sandy Brehl

SGL: For the benefit of readers who are new to this trilogy, what inspired you to write about the occupation of Norway during WWII?

SB: First, I’m not Norwegian, but I visited the little village near the west coast of Norway with a friend who was traveling there to meet her own first- and second- generation relatives. That was DECADES ago, but it was a revelation to me! I love the country. I was amazed to learn stories of the German occupation during World War II from those who had lived through those years. I returned home convinced that I should write stories about that time and place; trying to capture the resistance spirit of the people I now call friends.

SGL: Have you been writing all your life? When did you start writing seriously, for publication?

SB: I’ve been writing my whole life, starting with crayon scribbles in the few books my family owned. (Practicing for book signing?) I grew up in a family of storytellers and proficient-but-functional writers. “In my day”, as old-timers say, creative writing rarely found a place in schools. So I learned all about “writing” correctly, and used those skills competently, but I had little experience with writing stories. Nor did I keep a journal.
Any storytelling I did was oral, except for the few times when such a thing was “assigned”. In those cases my paper earned good marks, but also included a comment that I was a “good storyteller”.

Those encouragements came back to me eventually. When I began teaching I realized the power a teacher has to provide opportunities to write creatively, to write on topics of choice, to encourage and provide specific praise. The impact of directly stating, “You’re a good writer,” or “You tell stories well,” or even, “What a writer!” is beyond measure, and I tried to reinforce those messages to students as often as possible.

I wrote WITH and FOR my classes for years, but never considered submitting anything to publish until I had a fender bender one fall. I wrote the full story of that on a blog post. The learning curve from there to publication was steep and far from smooth. From that time on I viewed myself as a “pre-published” writer.

SGL: What is your writing/creative process? Do you outline first?

SB: My process is as messy as my desktop and files. For longer works, I work in my head first and longest. Throughout the process I am writing notes and passages, but not actually drafting. Historical and well-researched pieces like this trilogy require extensive notes and I have books stuffed with sticky tabs from which timelines and significant event chronologies emerge. As my critique partners often remind me, this can lead to falling into a “teacher voice” in the writing.

I always have a plan, but am not devoted to it. I have stacks of notes and webs and chapter tags in spiral notebooks, but none of it would make sense to anyone else. Once the drafting and revising are underway, the notes rarely make sense even to me. When writing picture book text, poetry, and other short pieces I never work from notes, but I do work by hand rather than on a keyboard. Only when I have the writing pretty solidly in place do I move to the computer to work on various refinements and save multiple versions where I can find them.

SGL: Your characters were very well developed. Do you keep charts for each character? Some writers use post it notes of different colors and put them up on a board to keep track of traits their characters have. Do you have a similar system? How did you come up with the character of “Goatman?”

SB: With Odin’s Promise, it was lucky, really, that I’d written so MANY versions and approaches over time. None of them had managed to take control of the stories effectively, but I liked them very much and they did have things to say and do. Once I found my main character I had an entire supporting cast waiting in the wings to take on new roles.

Mari came about as a direct result of research. While reading journal entries written by young people during the occupation, Mari walked in the door, sat at my side, and redirected the many different characters, events, and issues from her point of view. In the process she made MY stories HERS, arriving as a fully formed character who jabbed her elbow in my ribs whenever I wavered from the story she needed to tell.

It wasn’t until the prospect of writing a sequel that I needed to chart Mari’s personal development over time, then merge it with the timeline of historical events and changing conditions.

As for Goatman, giving derogatory nicknames to various Germans was yet another way for the loyal locals to demonstrate their resistance to and contempt for the occupiers, mocking them behind their backs. I consciously worked at humanizing “the enemy” from the beginning, portraying the German soldiers and occupiers as individuals with various motivations, backgrounds, and personalities. Readers (young and old) often comment on that aspect of the story.

As the occupation stretched out over the years, all pretenses of Germans being there as “protectors” disappeared. Goatman became a symbol of a complex soldier, one who was neither kindly nor evil, but simply self-serving and surviving. Mari needed to have an antagonist who personified the most base aspects of an “enemy” while portraying a distinctly individual personality, one who was irritating and offensive to the other soldiers, too. The last thing in the world I wanted readers to take away is that “ALL” Germans (or anyone) should be viewed as monolithic stereotypes.

Each of the characters became very real to me, growing more so with each revision and extension of the stories. I feel like I would recognize them if I met them on the street and I’d want to ask them what they’ve been up to. It’s very gratifying to hear from readers who seem to feel the same way.

SGL: What do you do when you get stuck? (For example, I work in the garden or go to the Y and swim.)

SB: I tend to switch gears. Sometimes it’s physical activity, like gardening or walking the dog. Sometimes I just stop, save, and get busy with household chores, errands, etc. I spend an hour on the treadmill every morning followed by thirty minutes of physical therapy exercises. That’s when the characters are likely to return, often uninvited. They initiate internal conversations with me, often pretty opinionated ones.

SGL: You manage to keep the suspense going and even add a little mystery in this third book. Assuming readers all know how WWII turned out, how did you manage to do this? Do you read mysteries?

SB: You’ve pointed out the biggest challenge of all, and one that was an early talking point with my editor. We considered approaching the final book as a full flashback, acknowledging immediately that the war ended and Norway is free. I’m not a fan of flashback in general, and this felt very deflating to me.

Once again research gave me a structure and insight to get started. Germany had never declared war on Norway. The occupation/invasion was described as a protective move, “saving” Norway from the Allies. That lie quickly dissipated, but the Germans remained in Norway with no official declaration of war, increasing their presence every year.

After the Allies began making headway against the Axis forces, in North Africa, in Italy, and finally in France and beyond, the free world began feeling hope, seeing a light at the end of the tunnel. In Norway, though, there was lingering doubt that an official peace would affect them. The occupying German forces in Norway steadily increased until the final days, suggesting that defeat in Europe might lead to a “last stand” in Norway, making it the fortress in the north that Hitler so often claimed. That reality added some significant tension to Mari’s life even though the Allies would have come to help, the war might just be starting for Norway once the peace treaty was signed.

Mari’s more personal, direct challenges during those remaining years, even mysteries and threats, were essential to make this a novel, not a dissertation. I do sometimes read mysteries, but not often. Those details and situations emerged from the characters’ imagined development, from anecdotal stories told to me by survivors, and from researching biographies of individuals. I’m pleased to have you feel that continual tension.

SGL: When you were writing Mari’s Hope did you have concerns that this book wouldn’t live up to the other two?

SB: YES! Concern, anxiety, and stress. First I tried writing a single sequel to Odin’s Promise and realized that it needed to be two separate novels to reveal changing conditions, historical events, and Mari’s development over such a long span of time. That meant I had a skeletal version of the “final book” written when the middle book, Bjorn’s Gift, released. Mari’s Hope required many revisions to account for changes in the second novel, but my very skilled editor, Philip Martin, had confirmed that the bones of the final novel were effective. In fact, he initially insisted on me writing both books before offering a contract on a trilogy.

Every reader who responds with interest and satisfaction after reading the final book gets a huge sigh of relief from me along with my thanks.

SGL: What’s next? Do you have another book in the works? You mentioned that you have worked on creating picture books.

SB: Writing picture books is my first love, and early on I envisioned writing bits of the war year stories as a picture book. At that time, some picture books were for older readers and had much more extensive text. Even so, my journey just goes to show how little I knew at the time about finding the right format and genre for the right audience and the right story ideas. Since then I’ve worked hard and learned much about what it takes to write a really good picture book. I have several manuscripts polished and out on submission while continuing to take workshops, courses, work with critique partners, and WRITE.

I also have works in progress for middle grades, including a novel in verse and a contemporary with a fifth grade boy as the main character.

SGL: Your books deal with very serious issues. When you visit schools, how do you talk to kids about the themes in your books? How does a typical school visit play out?

SB: My school visits are often scheduled by teachers with content in mind, aiming to extend and explore works of historical fiction and my book specifically. Several schools have invited me to return year after year, which is a great honor. At school visits spanning many grades I focus on writers being real people, about the need to get ideas onto paper and then treat those ideas as seeds. Revising is a way of feeding, weeding, watering, and working on those seeds to eventually harvest as fully developed stories, poems, or other content. I also share picture books with the youngest students, books that relate to the writing process and to being brave and honest.

Many thanks to Sandy for spending time with me and answering my questions so thoughtfully. I have interviewed Sandy before; the links to those interviews are here. Interview with Sandy about Bjorn’s Gift

Sandy Brehl is the award-winning author of a Norway historical trilogy for ages ten-thru-adult. (Odin’s Promise, Bjorn’s Gift and Mari’s Hope.) She also writes a blog about picture books ( and contributes to a blog about historical works from middle grade readers ( She’s an active member and volunteer with SCBWI-Wisconsin. Sandy writes fiction, nonfiction, and poetry for young readers of any age. A retired educator living in the Milwaukee area, Sandy offers programs for schools, libraries, and adult groups. Learn more at, follow on Twitter @SandyBrehl and @PBWorkshop, and on Facebook: Sandy Brehl Author.


Related Links:

Crickhollow/Crispin Books:

Amazon link

Goodreads link- with reviews

Check out the next two reviews on the Blog Tour!

9/18 Suzanne Warr

9/20 Alex Baugh





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One Last Book for Summer Reading

Summer of Lost and Found by Rebecca Behrens. Aladdin, Simon and Schuster, New York, NY 2016

“You don’t expect your life to change because of a toothbrush. But that’s really how my summer of lost and found started, with one missing object.”

During the course of one summer, Nell Dare will become interested in solving several mysteries: Where did those Lost Colony people go? Why is her mother acting so strange? But most of all, why did her father suddenly run off to England? From the moment Nell notices her father’s toothbrush is missing until she meets an unusual boy who seems just as interested in solving mysteries as she, this middle grade novel is full of action and intrigue that entertains from start to finish.

After seeing the word separation on her mom’s computer, Nell is too scared to come right out and ask her why Dad has gone to England. But his disappearance has ruined her summer plans of staying in New York, taking tennis lessons with her best friend, Jade, and maybe meeting cute guys at the tennis court. Her mother announces that Nell will be accompanying her to Roanoke Island to help with her plant research. All the arguments Nell thinks up for staying in New York don’t budge her mother’s resolve.

Once on the island, Nell meets Lila, an annoying girl who thinks they should be best friends. After Nell snubs her, she meets Ambrose, a somewhat odd, but intriguing boy who also likes mysteries. Nell figures that if she and Ambrose can find enough clues to the Lost Colony, maybe her father, a mystery writer, will come home and write about it. But why does she get the feeling someone is spying on her? Is it Lila or someone else?

The end of the book includes an Author’s note, history of Roanoke, a section on Roanoke Today and an extensive bibliography for those wanting to learn more about the island and the lost colony. What I love about historical fiction is how it piques my interest in visiting intriguing locations, far and wide. Roanoke Island, with all its history and mystery, is definitely on my list of such a place.

I found this story particularly fascinating as my father, known for his telling of tall tales, once claimed his mother was a descendant of the Lost Colony. Probably not true, but one never knows…


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Tricia Clasen Skillfully Handles the Subject of Grief for Young Readers

The Haunted House Project, by Tricia Clasen. Sky Pony Press, New York, NY, 2016

“I stop outside my dad’s bedroom door. Sometimes I think I can still smell her here. Right now, I’d love even a hint of the stuff she used to spritz that made her smell like a tropical island. I inhale deeply. Nothing. It’s probably for the best. Even if I could catch a whiff, I know I’d be imagining things. Because she’s gone.”

Andie’s mom is dead, hit by a semi-truck in a fatal car accident. Andie’s family is broken. Her father loses his job; her sister has put off college. There’s never enough food in the house and Andie worries what might happen if the authorities find out how they are living. Could she end up in foster care?

When her science partner, a nerdy boy, suggests they study the paranormal for their project, Andie is all in. What if Andie haunts her own house? Pretends it’s her mom? Might that glue her family back together again?

Tricia Clasen has written a poignant and riveting story about a broken family and a girl much too young but determined to heal it all on her own. When friends and the school psychologist try to help, she resists. Andie has her own plan and she is going to stick to it, no matter how ill-advised it may be. When she feels that her old friends just don’t understand her grief, she finds herself moving away from them—another kind of loss.

Clasen’s writing is evocative and the prose keeps the reader turning the page at a quick pace. The author shows how painful grief can be and what it drives us to do. A young girl, trying desperately to save her family by bringing her mother back, albeit as a ghost, is both heartbreaking and believable. This is a story about a family falling apart, but ultimately putting itself back together again.

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The Perfect Book for Exploring Nature with a Grandchild

Grandma is a Slowpoke by Janet Halfmann, illustrated by Michele Coxon. Star Bright Books, Cambridge Massachusetts, 2015.

Being four-years-old apparently means inventing “games,” in which my granddaughter and I have different names and parts to play. Many times these games are based on Disney Princesses and their adventures and challenges. When we arrive at her house each day we are never sure who will meet us at the door. Will it be Elsa from Frozen or Rapunzel from Tangled? And then there’s Elena. I’m not entirely sure who she is. But I digress.

In just the past week she’s taken to acting out books I’ve read to her. Today was a sheer delight. When I first showed her Grandma is a Slowpoke, she said I could read it after our “game.” But we weren’t too far into that adventure when she picked up this book and asked me to read it. “Then we can make that our game” she said. I was thrilled. I’d been waiting for just the right moment to read this book. Today couldn’t have been better. The sky was blue, humidity non-existent and the temperature hovered around 76 degrees. A perfect day to read about a little girl and her grandma taking a walk and learning about nature from each other.

After I was finished, she looked at me eagerly and asked, “Can we go to a park and make a game out of this story?” I was exhausted. Between trying to get my planting done and keeping my house in some modicum of order during a major kitchen remodel, I was ready for a nap. But I knew the time was right and these moments don’t always occur when you’re completely rested. Who is ever completely rested anyway?

We have a small woodland park near our house that several neighbors take care of. New wood chips had recently been laid down on the walking paths. So the two of us set off. I stopped to point out flowers and birds like the grandma in the book. And she answered each time, “Yes, Grandma.” She loved being in the woods and as I watched her run down the path with pure joy I was so glad I’d mustered up the energy to come. I definitely was the slowpoke, but she didn’t seem to care. When we returned she explained to her mom that we’d seen two kinds of flowers, a robin, and we heard, but didn’t see, a very noisy woodpecker.

The illustrations in this book, with their realistic detail of the busy mom with a baby and a house full of loving messiness, add so much to the story. Those pictures alone, without words, show how important the walk in the woods with Grandma is to the little girl. In this way, Halfmann has captured the essence of the child/grandparent relationship. This is a wonderfully sweet book and the perfect book to read now, during this season of sun and warmth. If you have a grandchild, or any child, in your life, run out and get a copy. Before the snow flies!



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History Comes Alive in Civil Rights Books

9781603094023_p0_v5_s192x3001In honor of Martin Luther King Day, this month I’m reviewing two books that articulate the importance of non-violent direct action to the civil rights movement. These books are not just for young people. Everyone interested in the civil rights movement, past and future will find them engaging and will undoubtedly learn something new. I did.

March Book Three by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell. Top Shelf Productions, Marietta, GA, 2016.

This third book, like the preceding two, in the March series of graphic “novels” (in reality, graphic memoir), begins and ends with the inauguration of Barack Obama. Bookending the remarkable life of John Lewis and the civil rights movement in this way gives one the sense of watching history unfold in the most unlikely way. When George Wallace stood in the schoolhouse door, and when non-violent demonstrators were beaten and killed, could anyone imagine a day when there would be an African-American President?

The comic book style makes it easy to read all three books at once. Even though they are a fast read, I found myself lingering a bit over many of the entries. The words of Fannie Lou Hamer describing how she was beaten—by Black prisoners forced to beat other Black prisoners—to within an inch of her life; the specter of children fire-hosed and arrested; the incredible violence that was perpetrated on non-violent demonstrators who sometimes were doing no more than waiting in line outside the courthouse in an effort to register to vote. (A word of caution: the language used is the actual language used by many who fought against the civil rights movement.)

As we prepare to say goodbye to Barack Obama, it is worth our time to take a moment and look back on what has transpired in our history to bring us this far. It is also worth it to look forward and realize we as a nation have, to paraphrase a great poet, miles to go before we sleep. If history teaches us anything, it is that we cannot become complacent. At the very least, we must vote. But more than that we must engage with our government, be it local or federal, on issues dear to hearts. We must be vigilant about our rights, because when rights are taken away from one person they are taken away from every person.

Although targeted to young people, March should be read by everyone.

232994941Bayard Rustin, The Invisible Activist by Jacqueline Houtman, Walter Naegle and Michael G. Long. Quaker Press of Friends General Conference. Philadelphia, Pa, 2014.

“On a hot August afternoon in 1963, Bayard Rustin stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial…he stepped out of the shadows to read the words he had prepared.”
Wait a minute. Don’t you mean Martin Luther King stepped up to speak? Wasn’t that the day of his “I have a dream” speech? Yes, and yes. But Bayard Rustin, the organizational wizard behind the march was there too. Most people have never heard of him.
Bayard Rustin was a pacifist who was arrested for not giving up his seat in the whites only section of a bus thirteen years before Rosa Parks. He taught Martin Luther King the tenets of non-violence. He organized the 1963 March on Washington.

Bayard Rustin was also gay and that fact explains why most people have never heard of him. Besides getting arrested for non-violent civil disobedience, he was also arrested on “morals” charges. More than once, he had to take a step back and work behind the scenes, so as not to compromise the goals of non-violent civil disobedience in the cause of civil rights.

In 1946, the Supreme Court had ruled that segregation on interstate busses was unconstitutional. In 1947 Bayard Rustin and an interracial group of fifteen men from the Fellowship of Reconciliation* boarded busses. African Americans sat in front. White riders sat in the front, middle and back of the bus. Arrests followed. But this was not the first time Bayard was arrested for sitting in the whites only section. The first time was in 1942, when upon boarding a bus, a white woman called him a n….

Bayard Rustin was arrested, beaten, and served on a prison chain gang. He was shunned by his own allies for being gay. But he always managed to pick himself up and continue his important work. His life’s passion was to teach the non-violent techniques of Gandhi, and he never wavered from that work. In his youth, his beautiful speaking and singing voice attracted attention. Later, his outstanding organizational skills served him well behind the scenes. Celebrating his life and work is long overdue. This book accomplishes that in a way that is accessible to people both young–and not so young. Today he would not have to live in the shadows, but even there, this “Invisible Activist” accomplished more than most.

*Fellowship of Reconciliation: An interfaith peace organization of pacifists dedicated to Gandhi’s principles of non-violent direct action.

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Unlikely Friendship at the Heart of A Handful of Stars

a-handful-of-starsA Handful of Stars by Cynthia Lord. Scholastic Press, New York, NY, 2015.

When Lucky, Lily’s blind dog, races across a blueberry barren, a young girl catches him by offering him her peanut butter sandwich. When Lily meets Salma Santiago, a migrant worker, Lily feels guilty, thinking that sandwich could’ve been the only thing Salma had to eat for lunch. But when she tells her grandma, Grandma decides Lily should take Salma a tourtiere, a traditional French Canadian meat pie.

“You want me to bring her a pork pie?…Maybe she’s a vegetarian…I should bring her bread and peanut butter so she can make a new sandwich.” Lily tries everything to avoid going to the migrant camp. It would be embarrassing walking in there with a pork pie. But Grandma wouldn’t hear of it.

With the help of her grandfather and the camp manager, Lily finds Salma and drops off the pie. The little blue houses the migrants live in seemed so cute until Lily realizes they are just four walls with very little room inside. And there is no stove to bake the pie. But Lucky has brought the two girls together in an unlikely friendship that will open Lily’s eyes to a whole new world.

Lily is painting small bee houses that people in Maine put in their gardens. She sells them at her grandparent’s general store, saving up the money for an operation for Lucky so that he can see again. Lily uses stencils when she paints. When Salma offers to help, Lily discovers that Salma is an artist and she is not afraid to experiment. Salma does not use stencils. She paints the houses in wild vibrant colors and Lily thinks no one will buy them, but Salma’s colorful bee houses fly off the shelf. Salma encourages Lily to put the stencils away and paint free hand, but Lily isn’t brave enough—she’s afraid she’ll ruin the bee houses and she needs every penny for Lucky’s surgery.

Lily, who lives with her grandparents, has never known her own parents. Salma travels back and forth across the country with her parents always moving, never staying long in any one place. Both girls are dealing with loss and through the course of the story each of them will learn from the other.

This is a gem of a book. I defy any dog lover not to cry at several points in the story—not because Lucky dies, he does not—but because the prose is so well written and the story so poignant the reader will be feeling the same emotions Lily and Salma feel.

Lord’s writing is clear and evocative; the voices of her characters realistic. The two cultures of the girls—Hispanic and French Canadian—are handled with authenticity and care. An extra perk for this reader was to learn so much about Maine and the blueberry harvest. A Handful of Stars is a quiet book. There are no explosions, no huge dramatic moments; only a story about two twelve-year-old girls struggling with loss and trying to figure out who they are.









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