All the Stars in the Sky Discussion Guide
- Grades: 6–8
About this book
To the Discussion Leader
In the 1800s while Americans headed west in search of fertile soil, gold, and new beginnings, Florrie Mack Ryder is a reluctant traveler heading from her home in Missouri to New Mexico on the Santa Fe Trail. Florrie's new stepfather is a trader who believes his new family will prosper selling the goods they bring with them at his store in Santa Fe.
Megan McDonald, the author of All the Stars in the Sky: The Santa Fe Diary of Florrie Mack Ryder, imbues Florrie's adventures with the smells, sounds, vistas, moments of joy, and times of deep sadness on the Santa Fe Trail in 1848. Birds, prairie flowers, tarantulas, snakes, and wild badgers come alive in the pages of Florrie's diary. On the trail, friendships are formed and goodbyes are a part of life. Through it all Florrie grapples with her ambivalent feelings about her new stepfather Mr. Ryder. Can he ever replace the father she loved and lost?
It is Megan McDonald's gift of imagination that allows today's young readers to walk the 1848 Santa Fe Trail with Florrie Mack Ryder and her family. All the Stars in the Sky casts a light on a part of American history that is not nearly so well known as the Oregon Trail and the California Gold Rush. McDonald writes, "I'm not a writer because I had an adventurous childhood. I am a writer because of what I choose to do with remembering. I am a writer because I imagine."
"One part of me clings to Missouri. The other part of me rides the wind — like a leaf," writes twelve-year-old Florrie Mack Ryder as she and her family travel the Santa Fe Trail. It is 1848, and Florrie, her brother, Jem, her mother, and stepfather, Mr. Ryder are moving from Arrow Rock, Missouri to Santa Fe, where Mr. Ryder is part owner of a store. Florrie has mixed feelings about the journey. She's reluctant to leave home and her best friend Caroline and curious about the journey which will take months. Florrie soon makes friends with sisters Louisa and Eliza, and the together girls share secrets, collect wildflowers, and see Indians for the first time. Joining the wagon train is Mr. St. Clair, an artist making sketches of trail life, who inspires Florrie to improve her drawing. As the settlers continue westward, they encounter torrential rains, swarms of mosquitoes, and then no water at all.The oxen begin to die from thirst, and cholera claims some of the travelers. Tragedy strikes when Mr. St. Clair's tent catches fire, and he dies in the flames. Florrie is inconsolable, and writes, "Our loss is unthinkable. Such sorrow, unbearable."
Mama, who is pregnant, becomes ill, and the family must seek medical help at Bent's Fork, Colorado, a little past the halfway point of the journey. While Mama is resting, Florrie and Jem explore the fort, which is "like a castle built of mud brick." Florrie becomes acquainted with a mountain man named Muldoon and a young Cheyenne girl, Mo'e'ha.
Sadly, Mama has her baby too early, and the tiny sister, whom they named Missouri, does not survive. Too weak to travel, Mama must stay at the fort while Mr. Ryder continues with Florrie and Jem to Santa Fe. Florrie hates to go and says, "It breaks my heart leaving Mama here to her sorrow." Almost a month later, they arrive in Santa Fe. After getting Florrie and Jem settled in with his partner's family, Mr. Ryder returns to the fort to fetch Mama.
As the days turn in to weeks, Florrie worries that all kinds of terrible things have happened to her parents. Finally after two months, Mama and Mr. Ryder arrive with a surprise, a baby sister for Florrie and Jem. With everyone together again Florrie begins to make plans for the future. She writes, "We're a real family now. Like a bone that's been broken and mended back stronger than ever. It's not like the place in us for Papa and baby Missouri is gone. It just we're making room for the ones we have left to love on this earth."
Thinking About the Book
- What happened to Florrie's father? How does she feel about her stepfather?
- Who is Mr. Biscuit, and how did he get his name?
- Why are Florrie and her family moving to Santa Fe?
- How does Eliza get lost? Why did Florrie feel especially bad about Eliza being missing?
- Why did Mr. Ryder throw so many of the family's belonging out of the wagon?
- Why was Florrie so determined to save Papa's trunk?
- Florrie says on July 18th, "Seems to take forever to find a true friend, but only a moment to lose one." What does she mean? Have you felt that way, too? Explain.
- What is the difference between these two routes — Cimarron Cutoff and Mountain Branch? Why do these two routes mark a turning point in the novel? Why is Florrie "un-lonesome" in Bent's Fort?
- What is Florrie's main reason for visiting Mo'e'ha's village?
- As Florrie is leaving Bent's Fort for Santa Fe, Muldoon tells her, "Keep your chin to the wind." What do you think he means?
- How did baby Cimarron get her name?
- Do you think Florrie will begin to call Mr. Ryder, Papa? Why or why not?
- What do you think was the most exciting thing that happened to Florrie on the Santa Fe Trail? What was the saddest thing?
- Identify the following people and terms.
- *Mr. Bent
- Florrie's hometown in Missouri was Arrow Rock. Reread the story she tells in her diary entry dated June 1, 1848, explaining how the town was named. Look up the origin of the name of your hometown. Share your findings with your friends.
- Abuelita tells Florrie the story La Llorona. There are several versions of this Mexican legend. Read this version and compare it to Abuelita's story (September 13th diary entry). Which version you like better? Why?
- When Florrie's friends, Eliza and Louisa, want to save colorful flowers they press them between the pages of a book. Try pressing some flowers that you'd like to keep.
- When Florrie discovers that her friend's name, Mo'e'ha, means magpie she draws a picture of this bird in her diary. Find some pictures of magpies and draw your own image of this bird. Why do you suppose Mo'e'ha was chosen as the Cheyenne girl's name?
- On the trail Florrie sees Pike's Peak and vows someday to climb it.Read the Epilogue to see if she ever did. See photos of Pike's Peak and learn more about this famous mountain on the Cog Railway website. What famous song was inspired by the view from the top of Pikes' Peak?
Discussion Guide written by Richard F. Abrahamson, Ph.D., Professor of Literature for Children and Young Adults, University of Houston and Eleanore S. Tyson, Ed.D., Clinical Associate Professor, University of Houston, Department of Curriculum and Instruction, Houston, Texas.