A fifth grade class filed into the Estrella Library at Fitch Mountain Elementary School on Friday, March 6, and patiently sat down on a cushioned reading corner adorned with star embroidered pillows.
But before the class was dismissed from their perch to pick out a book, they were reminded of the legacy of a girl who was passionate about reading, Estrella Navarrette, a student at Healdsburg’s Foss Creek School who died of leukemia at the age of 12 on March 22, 1995.
Twenty-five years later, reminders of Estrella and her love for reading can still be found, especially throughout the library that was named in her honor.
Her parents, Ricardo and Luz Navarrette, said while she was always an avid reader, reading helped her cope and provided an escape from the confines of her hospital room during chemotherapy.
“She loved to read, she was always reading,” Luz Navarrette said, referring to a photo of Estrella sitting on a log reading, dipping her feet in a creek. “When she was diagnosed with leukemia she was at the hospital at UCSF and Kaiser Permanente and she just wanted to read books because she couldn’t be in the classroom, or with any other kids.”
Groups like the local police and fire department would send the Navarrette family cards with money for books.
Estrella particularly liked “Goosebumps” and “The Babysitters Club.”
As Estrella’s disease progressed, The Make-A-Wish-Foundation became involved and her first request was to travel, but since she was not able to do so, she requested to have a library named after her.
Luz Navarrette said her daughter pointed out that many buildings are named after older rich men and not children. Estrella thought it would be neat to have a library named after a younger kid.
“She goes, ‘I would like to have a library named after me’ and the idea of the Estrella Library came to be,” Luz Navarrette said.
The-Make-A-Wish-Foundation then granted money for the library project.
The Healdsburg Unified School District granted the request and the library at the old Foss Creek School, now the Healdsburg Community Center, was named the “Estrella Library.”
As part of the wish, a reading corner and technology were also brought in.
“At the original Foss Creek School we brought in computers and then we created a reading corner with the star pillows and that was all very important and then the movement from the community was to name the library in her honor because she had become such a symbol to them in adventures in reading,” Ricardo Navarrette said.
However, the district policy at the time was to not name buildings after individuals.
“So what the community came up with was her name was ‘Estrella,’ and that means ‘star’ in Spanish and they said, ‘What if we name it Estrella and the motto will be a prender una estrella, to light a star.’ The meaning for the children and for the community was every person who reads a book has a star inside them that sees light.’”
The board of the school and the district embraced the concept and the library namesake was born.
“That legacy has carried on now for 25 years,” Ricardo Navarrette said.
Once the Foss Creek School was closed, the namesake was transferred to the library at Fitch Mountain Elementary School and in 2009 a new reading corner was created with reminders of Estrella and the motto “To light a start” sprinkled throughout the library.
Hand-sewn pillows with stars were added to the reading bench in the corner and statues of Estrella with her nose buried in a book were placed upon bookshelves.
The Healdsburg Education Foundation and the Healdsburg Elementary School Parent Teachers Organization helped raise funds to complete the reading nook and bench at Fitch Mountain. Fitch Mountain Librarian Ericka Drew said while not all the students fully understand how the naming of the library came to be, they do share Estrella’s love for reading and enjoy hearing about her adventures in reading.
“They feel her spirit around and they talk about her,” Luz Navarrette said.
A class project from 2006 sitting on a library shelf contained essays about why students like to read.
One student wrote, “I like reading because everytime you start reading you go into a world and you get to learn and see new things and I bet Estrella was a smart and nice girl, p.s. Thank you Estrella.”
Luz Navarrette added that she is happy that Estrella’s spirit continues to inspire children.
As done in years past, the Navarrette family will have a private family mass in celebration of their daughter.