It was created by Forest Hills resident Sharon Fialco, who has two daughters, Tara and Dana, with her husband Marvin.
“Tara was an enthusiastic, happy child filled with wonder, but also presented some puzzling behaviors that would lead to a diagnosis of autism,” said Fialco.
When Tara was six, her grandparents gave the family a piano, and over time music became a window into her soul, helping her connect with others.
“She memorized the sound of every key, soon taught herself to play any music she heard, and began to compose her own music,” Fialco said. “Although she had problems with social communication, she was able to express her thoughts, emotions, and reflections on the world through music.”
Then Dana was born.
“She entered a world that required empathy for a sibling whose behaviors did not always meet the demands for conformity,” Fialco said. “She had a beautiful voice, loved to perform, and took an early interest in Tara’s circumstances and her music.
“She began writing lyrics to Tara’s music, and they would later perform extensively together locally, as Tara played the keyboard while Dana sang,” she added.
“Starabella” was coined by Dana at age three as a name for her imaginary friend. The book series features a child with additional challenges, analogous to Tara, who learns and expresses her emotions through music.
It profiles three stages of Starabella's early years at home, in the community, and school, and how she overcomes challenges through her talents and encourages others. “Book three, ‘Starabella: Welcome to a Bright New World,’ offers children an interactive way to approach bullying issues using a ‘magical mirror,’” Fialco explained. “Starabella’s special connection to the stars is revealed, and she magically transforms into a kindergarten rockstar and leads her diverse classmates and children everywhere to a world of empathy and acceptance.
“Starabella is more than books, and is comparable to musical theater for kids, along with important messages presented in a highly entertaining way,” she added.
Tara composed and performed 17 of the 22 songs for the series, and Dana composed additional music, narrated stories and sang. Fialco also pitched in with lyrics.
Fialco is hopeful that audiences will grasp the various themes.
“We all need to accept and celebrate each other’s differences rather than excluding, fearing, and bullying those who appear different,” she said. “Befriend others with whom you may not feel comfortable at first, since when you see the world through another’s lens, empathy is awakened. Also, introduce children to the arts as a valuable means of expression.”
Fialco calls Tara her own music therapist.
“Her music lifted her up above the harshness in her life to a place of joy where she experienced self-pride, and we marvel at this blessing,” she said. “People with extra challenges face each day with the courage of superheroes.”
Today, Tara maintains an active lifestyle. At the Jerry Orbach Theater, she opens shows by playing piano under a Broadway music and drama group. She is also an avid concertgoer in city parks, enjoys ethnic restaurants citywide, feels inspired by classical organ meditations, and is a nature enthusiast.
She performs for The Salvation Army community lunches and plays piano weekly at nursing homes in Queens and Manhattan.
“Starabella” is already being sold by some educational distributors to schools. Fialco hopes to connect with businesses interested in distributing the books.
“We are in the process of scheduling readings at schools and organizational events in Forest Hills, and we will exhibit and sell books at community events and organization fundraisers,” Fialco said.
To purchase copies, visit starabella.com or Amazon. Local residents can contact firstname.lastname@example.org to arrange a special pickup.