I’ve been seeing Stella Díaz Has Something to Say for a while on our library shelves and I’ve been meaning to read it for two reasons: One, I find the cover super cheerful and adorable and two, the only non-English language taught in my school is Spanish, and I knew that this title is sprinkled with a lot of it. At first glance at this book, I assumed that this title was just a bit of fluff (which is fine and necessary!), but it’s actually got a lot of depth.
Stella Díaz Has Something to Say, to me, was really a title about the urge to belong and find one’s place in a community (in this case, the community being school). While Stella’s school days aren’t totally comfortable, as she sometimes experiences anxiety while speaking English (and sometimes Spanish, as well), she always has the support of her best friend, Jenny. This year, however, Jenny is assigned to another class and Stella starts to feel very lonely. Add bully Jessica Anderson to the mix, who makes fun of Stella when she struggles with language, and Stella has become very isolated at school.
Stella came to the United States when she was a baby, and has no memory of Mexico (other than second-hand recollections from her mother, brother, and other extended family), which is why she’s surprised when she discovers in class one day that she’s technically a resident or legal alien, meaning someone who, “can stay here as long as they want, but they don’t have as many rights as citizens” and that “after you’ve been a resident for a while you can apply to be a citizen.” The word “alien” is a shock to Stella’s system, making her feel even more out-of-place: “I don’t fit in, Mom,” she thinks, “I am different from the people in my class. I’m an alien.”
But, of course, this is middle grade literature, so Dominguez delivers a happy, hopeful ending. Stella makes new friends and bonds with her classmates over her true passion, marine life. She still struggles with a bit of social anxiety, especially when interacting with new-kid Stanley, but, with the gentle encouragement of her mother, she finds a way to make connections.
Stella’s family is the high point of this chapter book, as her relationship with her mother and brother, Nick, is so warm, affirming, and cozy. Though her father is sort of an absent and unreliable figure, which is explored a bit later in the title, the Díaz home is a source of stability and comfort for Stella. Here, she is accepted, loved, and never has to worry about how good her English or Spanish is.
Above, you see the flier that I update for our library bulletin board. I like to change it up as often as possible, especially with titles that are good for our third and fourth graders. For one of the last books, it actually worked! Two students who hardly ever ask for books said, “I want the book from the board.” It’s definitely motivated me to keep switching the titles out.
For my next books, I’m on the hunt for short, accessible titles that aren’t part of a series. If you have any recommendations for third or fourth grade literature with POC protagonists, preferably published in the last three years, that’s high-interest/low level and/or on the short side, I’d love to know about it!