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The Stars Beneath Our Feet by David Barclay Moore

The Stars Beneath Our Feet by David Barclay Moore is an award winning novel about 12-year-old Wallace "Lolly" Rachpaul growing up in Harlem in New York City. The book begins Christmas Eve a few months after Lolly's big brother Jermaine was tragically killed in a gang-related shooting. The story follows Lolly as he channels his grief into creativity. Immersing himself in his favorite hobby, Legos, Lolly uses his imagination and artistry to build the extensive, intricate world of Harmonee. This important and inspirational story of family, tragedy, and resilience demonstrates the healing power of art, community, and friendship.

Student Activities for The Stars Beneath Our Feet

Essential Questions for The Stars Beneath Our Feet

  1. Who are the main characters in The Stars Beneath Our Feet and what challenges do they face?
  2. What are some of the symbols and motifs present in the novel? How does the symbolism help you better understand the characters and their motivations?
  3. What are some of the themes present in the novel
  4. What messages or lessons does the author try to impart to the reader?
  5. How does Lolly change and grow throughout his journey?

The Stars Beneath Our Feet Summary

Beware! This synopsis of the book, The Stars Beneath Our Feet below does contain spoilers! This summary is meant to be a helpful recap for students after they have read the book. Or, a useful refresher for teachers to help them decide if they would like to use this powerful story in the classroom.

What is The Stars Beneath Our Feet about?

 Wallace "Lolly" Rachpaul lives with his mother in St. Nicholas Housing Projects in Harlem, New York City. His best friend Vega lives in an apartment nearby and is someone Lolly can always count on especially in supporting Lolly after the sudden and tragic death of his older brother, Jermaine, who was shot in the Bronx on Halloween. Lolly's parents are divorced and his father has not been around much. Knowing that Lolly has been struggling with his grief, Lolly's mother's girlfriend Yvonne gifts him two big garbage bags full of Legos for Christmas. 

Lolly attends an after school program every day with Vega and does his homework amongst his friends from the Saint Nick projects. Lolly also talks with the director Mr. Ali, who is a social worker that helps Lolly process his grief over the loss of his brother. Mr. Ali also offers Lolly the opportunity to build his Lego creations in an empty storage room. Lolly looks forward to escaping to the storage room every day and has soon built an elaborate make believe world that he calls Harmonee. Lolly invents complex stories and even interactive games to go along with his world.

One day Mr. Ali allows Lolly's classmate Rose, who struggles socially due to her autism and is also grieving a loss, to come to the storage room and build alongside Lolly using his Legos. At first Lolly balks at the idea and resents "big Rose" invading his sanctuary. Lolly even challenges Rose to a ten feet tall tower building contest to see who is better at building with Legos. The champion would get to stay. However, the contest ends in a tie and Lolly and Rose are forced to continue working together.

During this time, Lolly and Rose begin to come to an understanding and start communicating through their love of architecture. Rose has an uncanny ability to reconstruct buildings she has seen exactly. While Lolly's world is fantasy, Rose's is realistic. Her intricate constructions are replicas of the Saint Nick Projects and the surrounding areas. Rose is also grieving the loss of her mother to suicide. She is raised by her grandmother who has told her: "Rosamund, when you die, they bury you, but your soul flies to the stars. Your mama, your daddy—they were buried under the ground, but they’re stars now, girl, stars beneath our feet.” Rose takes this to heart and has placed stars on the bottom of her buildings to represent all those who’ve died.

Rose and Lolly’s creations begin to attract a lot of positive attention. Their friends and families are amazed at what they’ve created. One day Mr. Ali tells them that the city has mandated the storage room be used as an exercise facility. Unfortunately Lolly and Rose have to tear down their Lego worlds. Lolly is devastated. Creating Harmonee has been a coping mechanism and the thought of destroying it makes Lolly feel like he is losing Jermaine all over again. Before the Legos are torn down the after school program arranges for them to have a display for the community. Many people come out to see the worlds that Rose and Lolly have created. Lolly even makes it onto the news! He is able to see that he might have a future one day as an artist!

One day while Lolly and Vega are out getting food at a bodega for Vega's mom, they get jumped by two gang members who have been harassing them. Lolly‘s new phone and Vega's new jacket are stolen and both boys are badly beaten up. The attack leaves both boys hurting and angry. While Lolly has his Legos to escape to, for the first time Vega feels disillusioned and his mind clouds over with thoughts of revenge. Vega even procures a gun.

When Lolly sees what Vega is planning, he tries to talk him out of it. Lolly also wonders if it would be easier to join a gang for protection. He is tired of feeling afraid every day and feeling like a victim. However, both boys decide that they don't want to go down the same path as Jermaine. Vega and Lolly go to the river where Jermaine was shot and throw the gun in giving up on revenge and choosing the non violent path.

The story ends with Lolly realizing that even though he will always miss his brother, he can find positive ways to channel his grief. He can keep his brother's memory alive by talking to him in his mind and finding others like Mr. Ali to talk to when he needs it. He realizes that there are a lot of positive influences around him that he can lean on. Lolly thinks, "The folks you hang out with can raise you up or bring you down low. Over time, they can make you think a certain way - change who you really are.” Lolly decides to work hard to choose a different future than what Jermaine suffered. He realizes, "I had learned the most important thing: the decisions you make can become your life. Your choices are you.”

The Stars Beneath Our Feet lesson plans include analyzing characters, vocabulary, plot diagram, and more! Students will also look at and discuss The Stars Beneath Our Feet quotes, themes, setting, and symbols. An additional activity could be to have students complete a The Stars Beneath Our Feet chapter summary for each chapter to dig deeper into the plot of the book.

Stars Beneath our Feet Customizable Lesson Plans

The above lesson plans are designed for teachers to easily copy and customize to meet the needs of their students. The focus of these standards-aligned lessons is to help students perform a close reading of the story Stars Beneath our Feet by David Barclay Moore. By the end of these lessons, students will be able to identify the major plot points that make up the narrative arc of the story as well as analyze the story for theme and much more! Read on to learn more about the activities above. Remember when you find one that you think your students will enjoy, all you have to do is click "copy". It will be immediately brought into your teacher dashboard to assign to your students that very day!

Stars Beneath our Feet Characters

Have students track the characters' development and growth throughout the story using a character map. An engaging way to hold reader's accountable is to have them add to their character map every time they are introduced to a new character in the story.

Visual Vocabulary Storyboard

It is critical to expand a student's vocabulary in order to expand student knowledge. Throughout reading, students may come upon many unfamiliar words. Students can storyboard their understanding of these words which will lead to better retention! Students can include the term, its definition and either a sentence that they create or one that is taken from the text along with an illustration that depicts its meaning.


The setting of a story is the location and time, or the where and when. Settings often play a crucial role. Students can map the different settings throughout the book in a storyboard and include illustrations and descriptions that discuss their importance to the story.

Plot Diagram

Students can create a Plot Diagram of the events in the story. Not only is this a great way to teach the parts of the plot, but it reinforces major events and helps students develop greater understanding of literary structures as they track the actions, thoughts, and interactions of the main and supporting characters.

Favorite Quote or Scene

Students can make a text to self connection by identifying their favorite quote or scene from the novel and creating a storyboard that illustrates the scene and includes the important dialogue or text along with a description of why it resonates with them!

Movie Poster

Students can create dazzling movie posters for the novel to demonstrate their understanding of the most important aspects such as setting, characters, and the overarching themes of the story.

Critical Analysis

Students can use Storyboard That's digital worksheet to conduct a critical analysis of the book. A critical analysis asks students to analyze 1 or 2 specific topics from a text and evaluate the impact of that topic on the work as a whole, as well as the author’s effectiveness in expressing that topic throughout the work.

Themes in The Stars Beneath Our Feet

Throughout The Stars Beneath Our Feet the reader is witness to an exploration of many serious themes such as grief, death, gang violence and coming-of-age through Lolly’s experiences. Lolly is a young Black boy who is grieving the death of his brother to gang violence and navigating the dangerous city as he enters adolescence.

Author David Barclay Moore explores themes of friendship, community and family with a sense of realism grounded in characters that are from different backgrounds, cultures and experiences. We meet Lolly's loving mother and her kind girlfriend, his father who tries to be supportive despite the challenges of divorce, Lolly's friendly neighbor who encourages his creativity, Big Rose, who's autism poses many social challenges but who ends up being one of Lolly's most trusted friends. The positive theme of the healing power of art and creativity is also present.

David Barclay Moore says in his bio that he 'is constantly trying to see the world differently" and that he seeks to, "explore and reveal the Mystery & Mythology of Black Men through questioning who Black men truly are" and, "to attempt to interpret the dialogues between Black cultures and other cultures". Read more about David Barclay Moore at his official website

About the Author

David Barclay Moore is an award-winning American author and filmmaker. In addition to writing The Stars Beneath Our Feet, which won the Coretta Scott King - John Steptoe Award for New Talent, he has also written the picture book Carrimebac: the Town that Walked about newly freed Black citizens in post-Civil War Georgia, and the novel Holler of the Fireflies, about a boy from Brooklyn attending a STEM camp in the Appalachian Mountains of West Virginia, as well as the award-winning documentary film "Realness".

Moore is from Missouri and studied Creative Writing and Film at both Iowa State and Howard University. He currently lives between St. Louis, MO, Brooklyn, NY and Los Angeles, CA where he continues to work on his many film and literary projects.

The Stars Beneath Our Feet Quotes and Discussion Questions to Use in Pairs or Groups

These questions may be used during reading, or upon completion of the novel. While it is best to get students discussing what they’ve read, these questions can also be answered individually in a reader’s notebook. It is always such a joy to hear the different opinions that students have, even though they are reading the same novel!

  1. What is the setting at the beginning of the story? Describe the time, place and overall mood of the story.

  2. Jermaine's friend Rockit gives Lolly a video game console from Jermaine for Christmas after Jermaine dies. Lolly thinks the “console felt like it was a gift for another kid.” (p. 25). Why do you think Lolly feels this way? What does it say about his relationship with Jermaine?

  3. Why do you think Lolly broke apart his Lego sets that he had built from the instructions?

  4. Why do you think Lolly doesn't tell Mr. Ali the whole truth about his relationship with Jermaine?

  5. Think about these quotes relating to the strange appearance of the coyote in the city: “Our coyote was part of a species in danger. Hunted down and shot up. We knew how it felt.” (p. 170) “Our coyote was nowhere. Disappeared. Like everything else does sooner or later. Nicky was gone. Like Harmonee. Like Jermaine.” (pp. 244–245) What do you think the coyote symbolizes in the story?

  6. Why do you think Mr. Ali gave Lolly and then Big Rose access to the storage room? What purpose does it serve for them?

  7. Why does Lolly initially feel upset when Mr. Ali allows Big Rose to also create in the storage room?

  8. On page 56, Lolly describes Big Rose as “special”. The connotation of the word "special" shifts throughout the story. What do you think it meant at the beginning? What do you think it means at the end? Why did Lolly's attitude change?

  9. Describe Lolly and Big Rose's relationship. Why do you think they became friends?

  10. What is revealed when Big Rose quotes her grandmother as saying, “Rosamund, when you die, they bury you, but your soul flies to the stars. Your mama, your daddy—they were buried under the ground, but they’re stars now, girl, stars beneath our feet.” (p. 164) How does this revelation change her and Lolly's relationship?

  11. What does the creation of Harmonee?

  12. After their violent interaction with Harp and Gully, Vega shows Lolly a gun that his cousin Frito gave him. How does Lolly feel about this? What do you think Lolly means in the quote that he was “hoping for a life maybe making art” (p. 235)?

  13. What do you think the following quote from page 270 means: Lolly says, "“Kids like us, me and Vega and Rose, were our own islands, living in a mad river.”

  14. How is Lolly's grieving of his brother's death evident throughout the story? What are some examples of how Lolly's grief evolves through different stages from denial, anger, depression and acceptance?

  15. Towards the end of the story, Jermaine's bed is taken out of Lolly's room. What do you think this action symbolizes?

  16. At the end of the book, Lolly declares that he would like to be called by his first name, Wallace. Why do you think he makes this decision?

Ideas for Post-Reading Activities

Storyboard That is an excellent tool for students to create fun and engaging projects as a culminating activity after finishing a novel. In addition to our premade activities, here are some ideas that teachers can customize and assign to students to spark creativity in individual students, pairs, or small groups for a final project. Several of these ideas include Storyboard That templates that can be printed out or copied into your teacher dashboard and assigned digitally. All final projects can be printed out, presented as a slide show, or, for an extra challenge, as an animated GIF!

  1. For Groups: Choose a scene from the story and write a short play to reenact to the class. Use the traditional storyboard layout to plan out your scenes. You can add text to your storyboards, or simply use the cells to visualize each scene of your play.

  2. Using the timeline layout, retell the story in chronological order. Our timeline layout gives you the options to include year, month, day, and even hour! You may also choose to omit these altogether.

  3. Choose a setting from the story and create a map of the setting using the small poster or worksheet layout. Use free form or other text boxes to include a key or label the different parts of the map.

  4. Using one of Storyboard That’s board game templates, create a game based on the book for your classmates to play!

  5. For Groups: Divide the chapters of the book amongst your group members. Each member of the group creates a storyboard for their assigned chapter. This can be done as a collaborative project, or separately for longer novels.

  6. Using the worksheet layout and Storyboard That’s worksheet assets, create a test or a quiz for other students in the class. You can create all kinds of questions such as multiple choice, short answer, and even matching! When you are done, be sure to make an answer key.

  7. Using one of Storyboard That’s biography poster templates, create a poster about the character of your choice. Be sure to include important biographical features such as: place and date of birth, family life, accomplishments, etc.

  8. Choose a chapter from the novel and create a storyboard that shows that chapter from another character’s point of view. For an extra challenge, use the T-chart layout to compare the original point of view with another character’s point of view!

  9. Create a book jacket of the novel using one of Storyboard That’s book jacket templates. Use Storyboard That art to create the cover, and write a summary of the story on the back, just like real books have!

  10. Using one of Storyboard That’s social media templates as a starting point, create a social media page for one or more of the characters in the novel. Be sure to think how the character thinks while creating this page.

  11. Create a scrapbook page made by one of the characters in the novel. Storyboard That has lots of premade templates that you can use as is, or change to fit your character’s personality! Check out our scrapbook templates today!

How to Analyze the Use of Symbolism and Imagery In "The Stars Beneath Our Feet."


Identify Symbols and Imagery

Read "The Stars Beneath Our Feet" closely and identify recurring symbols and vivid imagery throughout the text. Look for objects, actions, or descriptions that have deeper meanings beyond their literal representation.


Analyze Context and Associations

Consider the context in which the symbols and imagery are presented. Examine the characters, settings, and events surrounding these elements. Reflect on the associations and emotions they evoke in the story.


Interpret Symbolic Meanings

Reflect on the possible symbolic meanings of the identified elements. Consider their potential connections to themes, character development, and the overall message of the novel. Analyze how they contribute to the author's intended effect.


Explore Literary Techniques

Examine the literary techniques employed in the use of symbolism and imagery. Consider how the author uses metaphors, similes, personification, or other devices to enhance the impact of these elements. Analyze their effectiveness in conveying deeper meanings.


Consider Character Perspectives

Analyze how different characters perceive and interact with the symbolic elements. Consider how these symbols and imagery shape their understanding of the world, their motivations, and their relationships. Look for character-specific interpretations.


Synthesize and Interpret

Synthesize your findings and interpretations into a comprehensive analysis of the use of symbolism and imagery in "The Stars Beneath Our Feet." Write a well-supported analysis that explores the author's purpose, the thematic significance, and the emotional impact of these elements on the reader's experience.

Frequently Asked Questions about The Stars Beneath Our Feet

Who is Lolly in The Stars Beneath Our Feet?

Wallace "Lolly" Rachpaul is the protagonist and narrator in the book, The Stars Beneath Our Feet. He is 12-years-old and lives with his mother in Harlem, NY. At the outset of the novel, Lolly is grieving the loss of his brother who was shot and killed in an act of gang violence. The story follows Lolly as he channels his grief into creativity. Lolly uses his imagination to build a world of peace and harmony out of Legos.

Where does The Stars Beneath Our Feet take place?

The Stars Beneath Our Feet takes place in modern day Harlem, NY. The main character, Lolly Rachpaul lives in St. Nicholas Houses or Saint Nick, which is a public housing project consisting of a large complex of apartment buildings and a park. Lolly lives with his mother in an apartment. Lolly spends a lot of time in an after-school program for St. Nick's residents.

Who is Mr. Ali in The Stars Beneath Our Feet?

Mr. Ali is a social worker as well as the director of Lolly's after-school program. Lolly talks with Mr. Ali, and it helps him process his grief over the loss of his brother. In addition to counseling, Mr. Ali offers Lolly the opportunity to build his elaborate Lego creations in an empty storage room.

Find more lesson plans and activities like these in our English Language Arts Category!
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