Jerry Spinelli. Stargirl. New York, New York: Knopf Books, 2000.

external image Jerry_Spinelli_-_Stargirl.jpg “She was elusive. She was today. She was tomorrow. She was the faintest scent of a cactus flower, the flitting shadow of an elf owl. We did not know what to make of her. In our minds we tried to pin her to corkboard like a butterfly, but the pin merely went through and away she flew.”

Leo Borlock goes to Mica High school, an ordinary school in Arizona. "Ordinary" is the operative word. The students are typical in every way, and like many high school students, are more concerned with fitting in than being themselves. It is this world that the appearance of Stargirl Caraway shatters. She acts differently. She looks different. She talks different. Everything about her breaks conformity. Instead of blending in with the crowd, she wears a different wild outfit every day- "normal" for her is a long pioneer style dress. She plays ukulele in the lunch room. She has a pet rat she carries with her wherever she goes. And perhaps the most strange thing of all is, she spends all her time making other people feel special. Stargirl’s arrival heralds a change in the existence of the school.

Stargirl is an imaginative novel full of spirit, that uses the realities of high school as a starting point. It mirrors the conformity of high school culture, while still offering hope for a more freeing existence through the character of Stargirl. This novel is able to accomplish many things. On one level it is the story of a school and its struggle to learn the importance of individuality. Its about the mind and how our perceptions of acceptable behavior can hold us back. On another, its a romance between a sheepish boy and a rambunctious girl. The characters are endearing and likable, and will last in the reader's mind for a very long time.

While at times the story can be a little unbelievable or even unrealistic, this is probably part of the author's point. Stargirl is the living embodiment of individuality in its most pure and "primitive" form. Some of the things she does are hard to believe, and rightfully so. At times the ways the high school students react seem even harder to believe, especially for adults who do not remember how cruel kids can be, but some reality needs to be suspended to fully enjoy this book and accept its message.

Recommendations for Teachers
Stargirl is a great book to teach to middle school classes. The girls will relate to the book's romantic element, and the idea of "shunning" those who don't go along with the crowd, and the male narrator and basketball scenes will appeal to the boys. Its themes of conformity, unpopularity, and surviving high school will speak to everyone.

Stargirl lends itself extremely well to journaling and class discussions. After reading about how Stargirl picked her own names, have your students read in class the names chapter of Cisneros's The House on Mango Street. Let them compare the names Stargirl has had with the names Esperanza would choose for herself. Have your students journal about names; whether they would choose their own name if they could, what name they would choose, and why they think Stargirl and Esperanza wanted new names.

Middle school is a very tough time for most kids. They are struggling to figure out who they are while still being enough like everybody else to be popular. Stargirl hits these issues with unflinching realism, and will strike a chord with most of your students. After reading about Stargirl's shunning, have them journal about the most unpopular kid they know (not to be shared with the class, of course). What mean spirited things have they seen done to this person, or have they themselves done to this person? Did they think of this person while reading about Stargirl? What mean things have other people done to them? How did it make them feel? Do they relate more to Stargirl or Leo? Teaching this book well will require a lot of honesty from your class. You must create an environment where students can speak candidly without fear of mocking, as they will get the most out of this book by relating it to their own experiences. Depending on how well your class responds to the book, they might even want to start a Sunflowers club of their own, doing one nice thing for another person every day. At the very least, your goal should be to inspire your students to be just a little nicer to the Stargirls in their lives.

About Name of Author
In 1941 Jerry Spinelli was born in Norristown, Pennsylvania. During his high school years he enjoyed sports. He played baseball while he was younger and continued on to be the shortstop on his high school team. In 11th grade a high school football game was his inspiration for his first poem. The poem was published in the local paper, and at that point he knew his calling. He stopped playing sports and he began writing. Not a bad choice considering now he is a prolific author famous all around the world. He first tried writing for an adult audience but this failed. When sitting at home one day he began writing about one of his children eating fried chicken. This inspired his first children's book, titled Space Station Seventh Grade. After his first he wrote many more great books such as Maniac Magee, Wringer, and Stargirl. He has won many honors for his books, Maniac Magee alone won him a Boston Globe/Horn Book Award, the D.C Fischer Award, as well as a Newberry Medal. His books have been published in other languages such as Chinese, Japanese, and Greek. Still writing, Spinelli lives in Willistown, Pennsylvania with his wife and seven children.

Stargirl Fan Made YouTube Video
This is a YouTube video made by a student to promote the book Stargirl. The author of this video chose different texts, colors, images (anime in this case), and music to put energy into the presentation and to add her one personal view of the book. Something like this could be a great project for students to do if you have a Mac lab in your school, or if your Windows based computers have Photo Story 3 installed. Students can customize their slides and let the music tell the story along with the text and images. A tool like this is beneficial in bringing the book to life for each individual student.
• Only the first 2 minutes and 28 seconds contains actual content in this 6 minute video.

Jerry Spinelli Interview

Mary Cappello interviews Jerry Spinelli in a 9 part youtube series. The 9 videos are broken down into seperate categories:
  1. Writing for Adults or Children
  2. What Jerry Thinks Maniac Magee is About
  3. Milkweed: Write What you Care About
  4. Taking Your Idea for a Book Out to Lunch
  5. Writing Process: Maniac Magee and Milkweed
  6. Why Maniac Magee Carries a Book with Him
  7. Forms of Play: Cappello Reads to Spinelli from Awkward
  8. The Things Our Coaches Tell Us
  9. Enchantment and Stargirl

For a full transcript of the dialogue from the videos, or you want to read and follow along due to the poor audio, head over to Mary Cappello's Website.

Additional Resources:
  • Jerry Spinelli's Website - Jerry Spinelli's Official Website where you can find facts, books, bibliography, and much more.
  • Self Esteem - National Association for Self-Esteem provides self esteem tips for people to be successful within their families, schools and workplaces.
  • DC Stargirl - Modern day DC Comic superhero, named Stargirl who wields a Cosmic Staff and manipulates energy.
  • Random House - Offers an introduction to a reader's guide and asks 11 different questions to provoke critical thinking while reading through Stargirl.
  • Teacher Guide - Offers chapter by chapter key concepts, vocabulary and questions in a well laid out .PDF. Written by Rosemary Pillsbury.
  • Wikipedia - Stargirl's entry on that provides a plot summary and information about the publisher.
  • Washington Post - Article promoting Stargirl, written by Actress/Singer Emily Osment, provides a general plot summary.
  • New York Times - Stargirl appears on the NYTimes Best Sellers List in the Top 10 for the 8th week in a row.
  • - Purchase Stargirl at for a discounted price. Amazon also offers reviews by their staff and other editorial reviews.
  • Study Guide - Multnomah County Library offers a short summary of the book and 10 questions to help review key concepts in Stargirl.
  • Girl Power - Girls Empowerment Network offers after school programs to better girls self image throughout school.
  • Book Review - University of Texas offers a short book review and critique, lists different themes throughout the book, some awards, information about the author and a few external links.

Reviewers: Aaron, Andrew, Jenn, and Ben (Other Wikis: The Giver by Lois Lowry, Jake Reinvented by Gordon Korman)