Star in the Forest
by Laura Resau, 2010
I hadn’t read a book with a topic like Star in the Forest before. I think I received an advanced review copy at NCTE. I know I’ve been spending a lot time reading young adult books, so I was scouring my to-be-read book shelf for something more middle grade, when this slim volume caught my eye.
Zitlally’s, the main character, voice grabbed me with the first paragraph as she describes her home like this, “There is a forest behind my trailer, through the weeds and under the gate and across the trickly, oily ditch. It is a forest of very, very old car parts, heaps of rusted metal, spotted orangey brown, with rainbow layers of fading paint, and leaves and vines poking and twisting through the holes. Birds and snakes and bugs sometimes peek out from the pipes and hub caps. My neighborhood is called Forest View Mobile Home Park. I think that must have been the forest they’re talking about.”
I had to stop to think if I’ve read a children’s book that has been set in a trailer park, and I couldn’t come up with a title. I could think of ones where characters, major and/or minor, have lived in a trailer that moves across country, one that is parked behind someone else’s home. No wait. As I writing and thinking, I just came up with Lucky from The Higher Power of Lucky. My brain can’t pull out any other titles.
Zitlally, which translates to Star from Nahuatl, a language her father speaks to her. I did flip to the back of the book and look for a glossary, and found out that “Nahuatl was the langauge of the ancient Aztecs. Forms of Nahuatl are still spoken by about one and half million people, mainly in rural communities in central Mexico, although dialects can differ from village to village. ” (p.145)
Zitlally’s family is illegal immigrants living in Colorado, and her father has just been stopped for speeding and deported back to Mexico. Unsure how to deal with the loss of her father, Zitlally withdraws into herself, only to find comfort in two unlikely friends: A dog she names Star who she found chained in the junkyard behind the trailer, and another girl, Crystal, who lives in the same trailer park. Through the friendship of Crystal and their mutual taking care of Star, both girls find comfort from some ugly parts of their lives.
I really enjoyed the entire story from sad beginning to happier ending.
If you are working with students, I would recommend having them read Zitlally’s Papa’s folktale from the end of the book (p. 132) when the tale first gets mentioned. For younger readers, I think it help them stay grounded in the story and prevent confusion.
As my daughter is immersed in an immigration study this week for social studies, I’m thinking this would be a perfect book to introduce the idea of modern-day immigration, both legal and illegal. With the background knowledge of Ellis Island, I think many students would appreciate having a simple, hopeful tale to help build their understanding of current day immigration.
A great story that I could see being a read-aloud, a literature circle selection, or a book used in social studies as part of an immigration or culture study.