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A Boy Grows Up In Harlem In 'The Stars Beneath Our Feet'


Lolly Rachpaul is 12 years old and a Lego master. He lives in Harlem, where his older brother was shot to death in a gang crime. When David Barclay Moore's new novel for young readers "The Stars Beneath Our Feet" opens, Lolly is angry and sad and doesn't feel much like celebrating Christmas. But his mother's girlfriend becomes a kind of Santa Claus when she brings home two enormous sacks of legos. The small plastic blocks may become a foundation to help him through life. "The Stars Beneath Our Feet" is the first novel by David Barclay Moore, former communications coordinator for Harlem Children's Zone. And Mr. Moore joins us from New York.

Thanks so much for being with us.

DAVID BARCLAY MOORE: Thank you for having me, Scott. I really appreciate it.

SIMON: Lolly writes, (reading) near the top where I live, it's all about borders and territories and crews.

Help us understand where he's growing up.

MOORE: Well, I myself was born and raised in Missouri, but I'd spent a lot of time in Harlem. I worked in Harlem, lived in Harlem and got to know the people fairly well - beautiful people in Harlem. And where Lolly is, he actually lives in the St. Nicholas Developments (ph), which is basically the projects in central Harlem. One of the descriptions that Lolly uses to describe St. Nick's is it's kind of like a really large, extended family. And so like a lot of families, there are members that you get along with and some that you don't get along with.

SIMON: What does Lolly find in Legos?

MOORE: You know, Lolly is a very creative boy. And I think one of the ways in which he utilizes Legos in this story is kind of exercise in imagination, building this fantasy environment and creating it in the real world, you know, and using that as a way to kind of process his grief. While all this is going on, he's also going through a type of therapy with a local counselor. And I think one of the things that the character finds out is that even though the therapy is helpful...

SIMON: Yeah.

MOORE: ...The involvement and the kind of creation of this alternate world of his ultimately has a larger kind of impact on his healing process.

SIMON: When the book opens, Lolly's the kind of guy who follows the directions. But suddenly, confronted with thousands, I imagine, in those two sackfuls, he makes a significant decision, doesn't he?

MOORE: Yeah, he does. That's kind of a pivotal moment towards the beginning of the novel. Nowadays, there's a lot of branding related to toys. And I think they can be kind of restrictive. And so when Lolly kind of throws away the instructions and decides to just go for it and build things directly out of his imagination - or thingamajigs, I guess, as one other character calls them - that's, like, a very important moment for him as far as his development as a young artist really.

SIMON: Yeah. And it's irresistible to point in this week when the new iPhone comes out that nifty possessions can have a drawback. Lolly gets a phone from his mother. And (laughter) really before he can enjoy it, it makes him a target.

MOORE: Yeah. I mean, that's a real issue. His mother of course, who's a fairly wise woman, realizes and kind of reluctantly gives him this gift of this new phone, which kind of winds up backfiring. It makes him a target.

Years ago, I was talking with this - one young man who - and we were talking about buying sneakers on 125th Street, which is the main drag in Harlem. And one of the things he told me at that time was that he didn't like to go out down to 125th Street alone. He had mentioned that - well, yeah, it's - I'm a target when I go down there. If I go down there alone, I have to kind of roll deep. I have to bring my friends - because his peers were antagonists for him, you know. And so - and that's something that, you know, I hadn't even thought about.

SIMON: Yeah. Did you want to write a book for the children you used to teach, both about and for I, guess?

MOORE: Yeah, yeah. You know, I love Harlem. You know, I've documented Harlem for years. But there are a lot of voices, I think, that are not heard as much as they should be. For me as an African-American and queer storyteller, it's very important to tell the stories of those underrepresented groups. And having worked with and taught and, you know, lived beside so many of those kids like Lolly in Harlem, I just really wanted to make those voices heard. It's something that's very important for me.

SIMON: Yeah. Do you hope that youngsters in, let's say, Harlem and Queens and the South Side of Chicago and Ladera Heights in LA read this novel but also youngsters in Westchester, Winnetka, Santa Monica?

MOORE: Yeah. I mean, you hit the nail right on the head. You know, my primary goal is I want it to get into as many children's hands as possible. And it's very important that these unheard voices be heard and that kids that kind of look like me are able to see their stories - right? - and to see reflections of themselves.

But at the same time, it's very important, I think, for everyone - all kids - to kind of experience this and just kind of expand their own kind of knowledge of the world that we live in and what it means to grow up differently than how they grew up. You know, that's incredibly important to me as well. It's - one of the things I write in the author's note is that reading is a type of listening. And, you know, it's important that we listen to each other's stories so that we can understand each other better, particularly in the world we live in today. You know, there's not enough listening going on and not enough understanding, in my opinion.

SIMON: David Barclay Moore - his novel for young readers, "The Stars Beneath Our Feet."

Thanks so much for being with us.

MOORE: Thank you for having me. I really appreciate it. Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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