A Handful of Stars by Cynthia Lord Book Review

A Handful of Stars by Cynthia Lord
Publisher: Scholastic
Release Date: May 26, 2015

Lily lives in Maine, in blueberry country, with her grandparents where she is working hard selling her handpainted bee houses to save enough money to restore her dog, Lucky's, sight. An unlikely friendship begins when Lucky eats one of the migrant blueberry picker's sandwich. Salma isn't like Lily. Her family moves around a lot, they live in a tiny cabin with no oven, and she doesn't really have anyplace that she calls home. And when Salma helps paint bee houses she paints the bees pink instead of yellow. Salma wants to be in the beauty pageant too, even though no one from outside of their town has entered, at least not since Lily's mother did many years before. And when the two girls devise a way to raise money at the Blueberry Festival, it is Salma who suggests making blueberry enchiladas. While Lily struggles with what it means to be a family with friendships that grow apart, and mother's lost, Salma is just searching for a place to belong.

This was a very sweet book, melancholy in a way that was reminiscent of Kate DiCamillo's Because of Winn-Dixie. What I love about Cynthia Lord and all of her books is the careful pathos she creates for all her characters, including the furry ones. There is such careful attention paid to every detail of her characters, which makes them uniquely interesting while also perfectly relateable. This is a book about friendship, but more than that it is about dedication, the loss of a mother, prejudices, imagination, daring to think differently, challenging norms, and friends who grow apart.

Some of these themes are rather popular in children's books, like changing friendships, which is understandably what many children experience. Perhaps it is such a universal part of growing up that is necessary in this type of a story. Although Lily was our main protagonist, I was much more interested in Salma. Salma's perspective was so wholly unique that I wish there was an entire story about just her. Although prejudice was dealt with on some level, an age appropriate level I might add, the issue of racism felt rather glossed over as most of the children and adults in this story were extremely accepting of the migrant families. Having recently witnessed some extreme racism in reference to migrant workers, I know reality is not as nice as the people in Lily's town seem to be. Is that a reality necessary for middle grade readers? I think the pendulum could swing either way.

On a lighter note, I absolutely loved all the different facts about blueberries. I truly had no idea what a rich history they have in Maine, although I do have personal experience picking them. (note: it takes forever to pick blueberries without a rake) I learned all kinds of interesting facts and actually had never heard of a bee house for bees that live on the ground. Fascinating and terrifying.

Things don't necessarily have a fairy tale ending for our characters, but one gets the impression that they both learned a lot more about themselves and friendship than if everything had gone perfectly, and that is what makes the book feel authentic.

Blueberry Enchiladas
  • 40 minutes to make
  • Serves 8


  • 21 ounce can blueberry pie filling
  • 8 flour tortillas
  • 1 teaspoon allspice
  • 1/3 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup water

How to make it

  • Spoon fruit filling evenly down center of each tortilla then sprinkle with cinnamon.
  • Roll up and place seam side down in a lightly greased baking dish.
  • Bring butter and next three ingredients to a boil in a medium saucepan.
  • Reduce heat and simmer stirring constantly for 3 minutes.
  • Pour over enchiladas then allow to stand 30 minutes.
  • Bake at 350 for 20 minutes.
  • Serve warm with whipped cream and fresh blueberries over top.