A Handful of Stars


A Handful of Stars
by Cynthia Lord

Readers Theater

Book Trailer

Author Interview

Related Activities & Resources:


Author Information:
Cynthia Lord’s Website:

Cynthia Lord, Handful of Stars Website:

Cynthia Lord on Twitter:

Cynthia Lord’s Live Journal:

Migrant Workers:

Young Migrant Workers:

Raking Blueberries in Maine Video (1:48):

Harvest your own blueberries in Texas:

Texas Pride Blueberries:

Blueberry Recipes:

Harvesting Blueberries:

When and How to Harvest Blueberries (2:05):

Mason Bees:


Bee Houses:



Blind Dogs:
Helpful Tips for Living with a Blind Dog

Maine Kids Page:

Discussion Questions:

Where did the title, A Handful of Stars, come from?

Pg. 5 What did Lily mean when she said, “I think Lucky knew that we need Salma, maybe even more than she needed us”?

What do you think it would be like to be a migrant worker? What would you miss most about your current life?

Why do you think some people liked Salma’s bird houses more than Lily’s?

Pg. 27 What do you think Lily meant by that “missing feeling”?

Pg. 32 How do you think Lily felt when she realized Salma’s first birdhouse had sold so fast?

Pg. 36 Why do you think Salma said “When you pretend, life can be any way you want it to be”?

In what situation could pretending make things better? What could actually be done?

Pg. 43 What do you think Dr. Katz meant when she said, “Your mom wasn’t afraid to think big thoughts”?

Why do you think Lily and Hannah grew apart? Is that good or bad and why?

Pg. 96 What are some of the facts Salma learned about blueberries?

What would be the hardest thing about being a migrant worker? What would be the best?

Pg. 124 Hannah asked who Lily would be voting for: her or Salma? What would you have said?

What was Salma’s talent for the pageant? What would yours be?

Pg. 150 Why did some people want migrant workers to be invisible?

Pg. 153 Have you ever been scared to try something different? What was it? How did it work out?

Pg. 159 Do you think Hannah should have won the pageant? Why or why not?

Pg. 168 What did Salma do with her $100 gift certificate? Why did this make Lily so upset?

Do you think getting Lucky a dog friend was a good idea? Why or why not?

What did the girls give each other before Salma left and why?


Book Talk Teasers:

Look at and discuss the famous photograph Migrant Mother by Dorothea Lange


Read Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey.

Read Ch. 1, p. 1 – 5.

Read Ch. 9, p. 75 – 80.

Read Alikes:

Bauer, Joan. Almost home. Sixth-grader Sugar and her mother lose their beloved house and experience the harsh world of homelessness. (NoveList)

Birdsall, Jeanne. The Penderwicks in spring. As spring arrives on Gardam Street, there are surprises in store for each Penderwick, from neighbor Nick Geiger’s expected return from the war to Batty’s new dog-walking business, but her plans to use her profits to surprise her family on her eleventh birthday go astray. (NoveList)

DiCamillo, Kate. Because of Winn-Dixie. Ten-year-old India Opal Buloni describes her first summer in the town of Naomi, Florida, and all the good things that happen to her because of her big ugly dog Winn-Dixie. (NoveList)

Cervantes, Angela. Gaby, lost and found. Gaby enjoys working at the local animal shelter and wants to adopt a cat but is unsure of her own living situation when her mother is deported back to Honduras. (NoveList)

Engle, Margarita. Mountain dog. When his mother is sent to jail in Los Angeles, eleven-year-old Tony goes to live with his forest ranger great-uncle in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, where Tony experiences unconditional love for the first time through his friendship with a rescue dog. (NoveList)

Larson, Kirby. Dash. When her family is forced into an internment camp, Mitsi Kashino is separated from her home, her classmates, and her beloved dog Dash; and as her family begins to come apart around her, Mitsi clings to her one connection to the outer world–the letters from the kindly neighbor who is caring for Dash. (NoveList)

Martin, Ann. Rain reign. Struggling with Asperger’s, Rose shares a bond with her beloved dog, but when the dog goes missing during a storm, Rose is forced to confront the limits of her comfort levels, even if it means leaving her routines in order to search for her pet. (NoveList)

Grimes, Nikki. Rich: a Dyamonde Daniel book. Free is excited about a local poetry contest because of its cash prize, but when he and Dyamonde befriend a classmate who is homeless and living in a shelter, they rethink what it means to be rich or poor. (NoveList)

Margolis, Leslie. One tough chick. As the school talent show nears, Annabelle’s plan to display her dog training skills goes awry and she is asked to be a student judge instead, which seems perfect until her friends begin asking for special treatment. (NoveList)

Meyerhoff, Jenny. Green thumbs up! Third-grader Anna has had trouble making friends since her family moved from a small town in New York to Chicago, but a group project at school leads to new opportunities, including friendships, a club, and a garden she can work in, just like in her last home. (NoveList)

Park, Linda Sue. Project mulberry. While working on a project for an after-school club, Julia, a Korean American girl, and her friend Patrick learn not just about silkworms, but also about tolerance, prejudice, friendship, patience, and more. Between the chapters are short dialogues between the author and main character about the writing of the book. (NoveList)

Ross, Susan. Kiki and Jacques. Eleven-year-old Jacques, who must contend with difficult family dynamics and pressure from an older boy to help him commit a crime, is surprised to discover that he has much in common with Kiki, one of the many new Somali refugees who have immigrated to his Maine town. (NoveList)

DiCamillo, Kate. The magician’s elephant. When ten-year-old orphan Peter Augustus Duchene encounters a fortune teller in the marketplace one day and she tells him that his sister, who is presumed dead, is in fact alive, he embarks on a remarkable series of adventures as he desperately tries to find her. (NoveList)

Holczer, Tracy. The secret hum of a daisy. After 12-year-old Grace’s mother’s sudden death, Grace is forced to live with a grandmother she’s never met. Then she discovers clues in a mysterious treasure hunt–one that will help her find her true home. (NoveList)

LaFleur, Suzanne. Eight keys. When twelve-year-old Elise, orphaned since age nine, becomes disheartened by middle school, with its bullies, changing relationships, and higher expectations, keys to long-locked rooms and messages from her late father help her cope. (NoveList)

Lopez, Diana. Confetti girl. After the death of her mother, Texas sixth-grader Lina’s grades and mood drop as she watches her father lose himself more and more in books, while her best friend uses Lina as an excuse to secretly meet her boyfriend. (NoveList)

Ryan, Pam Munoz. Paint the wind. After her overprotective grandmother has a stroke, Maya, an orphan, leaves her extremely restricted life in California to stay with her mother’s family on a remote Wyoming ranch, where she discovers a love of horses and encounters a wild mare that her mother once rode. (NoveList)

Sloan, Holly Goldberg. Counting by 7’s. Twelve-year-old genius and outsider Willow Chance must figure out how to connect with other people and find a surrogate family for herself after her parents are killed in a car accident. (NoveList)

Other Cynthia Lord Books:
Lord, Cynthia. Rules. Frustrated at life with an autistic brother, twelve-year-old Catherine longs for a normal existence but her world is further complicated by a friendship with a young paraplegic. (NoveList)

Lord, Cynthia. Touch blue. When the state of Maine threatens to shut down their island’s one-room schoolhouse because of dwindling enrollment, eleven-year-old Tess, a strong believer in luck, and her family take in a trumpet-playing foster child, to increase the school’s population. (NoveList)

Lord, Cynthia. Half a chance. Lucy, with her mother and her photographer father, has just moved to a small rural community in New Hampshire, and with her new friend Nate she plans to spend the summer taking photos for a contest, but pictures sometimes reveal more than people are willing to see. (NoveList)


Book Reviews:

A Handful of Stars.
By Cynthia Lord.
2015. 192p. Scholastic, $16.99 (9780545700276); e-book, $16.99 (9780545700290). Gr. 4–6.
First published April 15, 2015 (Booklist).

When 12-year-old Lily’s blind dog, Lucky, slips his leash and runs away across the blueberry barrens of Maine, a young migrant worker named Salma saves him from running into the road with her well-timed gift of a sandwich. The two girls quickly become friends and discover that each has a dream: Lily’s is to earn enough money to pay for eye surgery for Lucky, hoping to restore his sight. Salma’s is to become both an artist and the first migrant worker ever to win the Downeast Beauty Queen pageant. Will their dreams come true? And if they don’t, will their friendship survive? Newbery Honor Book author Lord has written a quiet, gentle story of friendship, which occasionally a bit bland, lacking drama, and, with its few problems, too easily resolved. But the girls’ friendship is appealing, and Lucky—well, Lucky steals the show. Dog-lovers will dote on this one. —Michael Cart


Horn Book:
Lord, Cynthia A Handful of Stars
184 pp. Scholastic 2015. ISBN 978-0-545-70027-6

(3) 4-6 Small-town Mainer Lily and migrant worker Salma become fast friends, bonding over Lily’s blind dog, Lucky. Lily wants to earn money for surgery for Lucky; Salma wants to win the local Blueberry Queen pageant. Both support each other’s plans despite the obstacles (the operation is risky; “outsiders” never enter the pageant) in this warm-hearted, thoughtfully written tale of a memorable friendship. (Fall 2015 Guide)


School Library Journal:
A Handful of Stars
Gr 4–6—Two girls from seemingly different backgrounds bond over a blind dog and blueberries in Lord’s latest heartwarmer. Lily lives in Maine, raised by her maternal grandparents, Mémère and Pépère. Her black lab, Lucky, is her strongest connection to her deceased mother. Lucky is slowly going blind and Lily is determined to raise money for an expensive and risky eye surgery to cure him; she paints wooden mason bee houses and sells them in her grandparent’s general store. Salma is in Maine for the summer with her family, migrant workers who live and work in the blueberry barrens. Lucky unexpectedly brings the girls together and they immediately bond over their love of dogs, art, and blueberry enchiladas. Salma is creative and artistic, something that Lily both admires and envies. When Salma decides to enter the Blueberry Queen pageant—something no migrant girl has ever done before—Lily’s eyes are opened to the microaggressions of some of the townsfolk. There’s also the surprising support from Hannah, Lily’s former best friend and reigning Blueberry Queen, who offers to loan Salma a gown. Through her friendship with Salma, the protagonist finds a confidence she didn’t know she had and she begins to recognize and question her own previously unexamined biases. Despite the slim page count, this middle grade novel’s plot evolves organically. Lord’s characters reveal themselves slowly within the narrative and the Maine setting is richly described. The bright cover featuring an adorable black lab is pure shelfbait; though readers looking for a animal tale will instead find a story that centers more on family, friendship, and growing pains. VERDICT A thoughtful work that examines cultural bias and will spark discussion.—Kiera Parrott, School Library Journal


The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books:
Lord, Cynthia. A Handful of Stars. Scholastic, 2015. hb 9780545700276, ebook 9780545700290

It’s a dog that brings Lily and Salma together: when Lucky, Lily’s ancient blind Labrador retriever, bolts for the road, Salma, one of the migrant workers picking Maine blueberries, lures him to safety with her sandwich. Soon a friendship blossoms between the two twelve-year-olds, and artistic Salma helps Lily decorate crafted bee houses to sell at the blueberry festival in order to raise funds for cataract surgery for Lucky. Salma also decides to enter the Downeast Blueberry Queen pageant, a move that breaks racial barriers but puts Lily, whose best friend is trying for a repeat victory, in an awkward position. Lord writes with a quiet naturalness that allows multiple plot facets to emerge without becoming messagey or heavy-handed. The treatment of Salma’s migrant life is matter-of-fact but direct, and Lily plausibly deals [End Page 35] with possibilities of local racism and swells with indignation on behalf of her new friend. Motherless Lily’s occasional longing for a maternal figure (“It made me all messed up inside to have someone treat me like a daughter”) is poignant, and her eventual Salma-encouraged shift in her approach to Lucky fits smoothly with her character growth. It’s the straightforward and unaffected prose (highly suitable for a readaloud as well as reading alone) that really allows Lily’s story to shine, though, and it’s hard to resist joining her on her journey toward greater maturity. Review Code: R* — Recommended. Grades 3-5. Deborah Stevenson (The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books, September 2015 (Vol. 69, No. 1))