45 pages 1 hour read

Cynthia Lord

A Handful of Stars

Fiction | Novel | Middle Grade | Published in 2015

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Summary and Study Guide


A Handful of Stars (2015) is a middle grade novel by Newbery Medal winner Cynthia Lord. The novel follows Lily, a young girl living in Maine, who befriends Salma, a migrant currently working with her parents during the blueberry harvest. As their friendship grows, Lily learns about Salma’s life and the challenges faced by migrant families. Together, they embark on a mission to help Lily’s blind dog, Lucky, by entering a local competition to raise money for his surgery.

This guide is based on the 2015 Scholastic Press Kindle e-book edition.

Plot Summary

Twelve-year-old Lily forms a friendship with Salma, a migrant worker, after Lily’s dog, Lucky, runs away into the blueberry farm where Salma works. Prompted by her grandmother Mémère, Lily gifts Salma a pork pie in gratitude. Despite initial awkwardness, the gesture is appreciated, marking the beginning of their budding friendship.

Living with her grandparents, Lily spends most of her time during the summer helping at the store below their house. She paints mason bee houses her grandfather Pépère makes in the hopes of earning money for Lucky’s cataract surgery.

After the incident with Lucky, Salma visits the store one day and joins Lily in painting bee houses. They exchange stories about Salma’s lost dog, Luna. Despite her unconventional designs, Salma’s bee houses sell well, which impacts Lily’s confidence.

Lily grapples with the changing nature of her friendship with Hannah while she grows closer to Salma.

Dr. Katz, Lucky’s veterinarian and Lily’s mother’s childhood friend, gifts Lily two photos of her mother from when she was competing at the Blueberry Queen Pageant. She warns Lily about the uncertainties associated with a cataract surgery for Lucky. However, to expedite the surgery, Salma and Lily decide to sell bee houses and blueberry enchiladas at the upcoming blueberry festival to raise funds.

Out with Hannah, Lily is uninterested in her former best friend’s tales of her crush and her participation in the pageant. Lily makes an excuse to leave, returning to the store to paint more bee houses with Salma. Salma paints blueberries, representing all of the fruit’s diverse colors. Lily suggests adding a star atop each blueberry, inspired by the Indigenous term “star berries.” Salma appreciates the idea, expressing her fondness for stars as reminders of her “star friends,” loved ones she keeps connected to despite the distance. Salma shares feeling out of place due to the nomadic pace of her life, and Lily shares her difficulties in connecting with Hannah as their friendship changes.

Salma decides to enter the Blueberry Queen Pageant alongside Hannah, which prompts Lily’s apprehension. Despite her reservations, Lily agrees to accompany Salma to Hannah’s to try on a pageant dress. At Hannah’s, Lily gives Salma tips for the pageant. While Salma tries on the pageant dress, Hannah shares she was hurt after Lily’s sudden departure during their last encounter, and Lily apologizes, explaining her focus on raising funds for Lucky’s surgery.

Salma registers for the pageant, sensing judgment from the clerk. While also skeptical about Salma’s chances, Lily refrains from passing judgment and encourages her aspirations. Salma reveals her plan to use the winnings for her studies. Lily recounts her mother’s triumph as the first French Canadian Blueberry Queen, highlighting the potential for Salma to initiate a similarly transformative shift in the community’s biases against migrant workers.

Lily reveals the story of her mother’s tragic death in a car accident. Salma shares her feelings of displacement due to her constant moving and how she sees the pageant contest as an opportunity to leave her mark on the Maine community.

During the pageant, Salma decides to showcase her bee houses as part of her talent. Nervous, she gets off stage, but Lily supports her by going alongside her, holding the bee houses while Salma presents them. At the end of the contest, Hannah is declared the winner, and Salma wins second place.

The next day, Lily organizes her booth at the festival, placing enchiladas and bee houses for sale. Salma comes to the booth and gives Lily a certificate to get a companion for Lucky instead of proceeding with the cataract surgery. Lily takes offense at Salma’s gift, leading to a heated exchange between the friends. Salma storms off, leaving Lily in tears.

Lily’s grandfather encourages her to consider Lucky’s surgery, highlighting that dogs are highly adaptable. Lily acknowledges that a companion for Lucky could be beneficial, but she’s resistant to more changes in her life. When Mémère joins them at the pet booth, a disagreement arises with Pépère. Mémère refuses to adopt another dog and blames Lucky for her daughter’s death. Lily initiates a heartfelt moment, leading to a family agreement to adopt a small yellow puppy named Rosie.

Lily apologizes to Salma, and both reconcile. Saddened she will go back to Florida now that the harvest is over, Salma gifts Lily a painting of Lucky, Rosie, and Luna before she departs. Both make a promise to stay connected even as Salma returns to Florida, ensuring their bond endures beyond their separation.

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