Linda Williams Jackson follows up her critically acclaimed debut, Midnight Without a Moon, with a new story starring 13-year-old Rose Lee Carter. A Sky Full of Stars opens in 1955 in racially divided Stillwater, Mississippi. After Emmett Till’s murderers have been acquitted, Rose finds herself caught amid growing racial tensions and differences in opinion about political activism. How should her black community respond to police brutality and a failed justice system? Is the only answer to meet violence with violence, or can peaceful protest make a difference? Growing up during a tragic, pivotal time, Rose—who later goes by Rosa—inspires as she finds her courage and her own sense of self.
What kinds of responses did you see from readers of Midnight Without a Moon, and how does A Sky Full of Stars respond?
The overall reader response for Midnight Without a Moon has been tremendously positive. It has been a delight to hear many readers claim it as their favorite middle grade novel of 2017. When ARCs for A Sky Full of Stars began to find themselves in the hands of readers, I didn’t know what to expect. But the response has been great, with some reviewers even claiming it to be a better novel than Midnight Without a Moon, and for that I am very grateful.
What do you love most about Rosa?
What I love most about Rosa is that she can remain optimistic in the midst of trouble. With everything going on around her—the racism from the outside and the abuse from the inside—she continues to hold onto her dream that she can one day make a better life for herself.
Rosa hears of different ways to respond to the injustices in her time; some black Southerners want to march in peaceful demonstrations, while others want to use their “Fist. Feet. Guns.” What advice do you have for kids who might wonder how they should respond to injustices—in the justice system or in their day-to-day lives?
First of all, educate yourself on what is going on. Don’t rely solely on social media posts from your friends to inform you. Read the real news for yourself. Discern fact from fake, then decide what you want to do to help. Perhaps that help is by speaking out, but please do so in an intelligent, informed manner. And be respectful. Always be respectful.
Rosa’s textbooks are completely whitewashed—they don’t even mention Frederick Douglass. Even in 2017, much of black history has only begun to receive its due attention. What’s one little-known story from black history you wish all young readers could learn about?
Almost every young reader knows about Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr. and the Montgomery Bus Boycott. But one little-known story that most probably don’t know is the connection that Mississippi has with this historical event. And most young readers probably have never heard of the little all-black town of Mound Bayou, Mississippi, that was a huge part of the burgeoning Civil Rights Movement. This is the little-known story from black history that I want all young readers to learn about in A Sky Full of Stars—the history of Mound Bayou, Mississippi, and its connection to Martin Luther King, Rosa Park and the Montgomery Bus Boycott.
How do you write about historical racism for a young audience? What are the greatest challenges in doing so?
I never set out to write about historical racism for a young audience. Instead, I set out to share a story about historical racism with ANY audience, but told from a young person’s point of view. From that intent morphed a story geared toward any audience, but more targeted for a younger audience. The challenge, however, in actually writing for a younger audience is not talking down to the audience by assuming that children can’t handle difficult topics.
What do you love most about writing for a younger audience?
What I love most about writing for a younger audience is having the opportunity to tell a story from a young person’s point of view. I spend a great deal of my time around children, so what interests them interests me. Therefore, I consider it a privilege to put myself in a young person’s shoes and relive youth in the form of a story.
Will we see Rosa again?
Yes, there will be more of Rosa’s story. But mostly, I would love to see Rosa’s story in movie form or as a TV series. I think young readers would love that, too.