Check out Susanna Leonard Hill’s blog feature Perfect Picture Book Fridays. She has compiled a complete list of recommended picture books with links to resources for home and the classroom. It’s awesome!
Author/Illustrator: Janell Cannon
Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers (Harcourt), 1993
Ages: 4 to 8
Themes: adoption, differences, animal adaptations
Opening: “One night, as Mother Bat followed the heavy scent of ripe fruit, an owl spied her. On silent wings the powerful bird swooped down upon the bats.
Dodging and shrieking, Mother Bat tried to escape, but the owl struck again and again, knocking Stellaluna into the air. Her baby wings were as limp and useless as wet paper.
Down, down she went, faster and faster, into the forest below.”
Synopsis: Knocked from her mother’s safe embrace by an attacking owl, Stellaluna lands headfirst in a bird’s nest. This adorable baby fruit bat’s world is literally turned upside down when she is adopted by the occupants of the nest and adapts to their peculiar bird habits. Two pages of notes at the end of the story provide factual information about bats.
What I thought: My kids and I loved the sweet story of the lost baby learning how to get along with new siblings who try to understand her but aren’t like her at all. She learns to eat food she doesn’t like and follows the rules of her new home. But as she matures, she discovers how to be herself as well as how to let her bird siblings be themselves. She still visits her bird family after she has found her way back to her bat family. The illustrations show details about the differences between bat bodies and bird bodies. Stellaluna is a beautiful, well-loved book.
I need to add that not everyone appreciates the way Stellaluna is treated by her bird family. I read about more than a few negative reactions from mixed-race families. The mother bird accuses Stellaluna of teaching her bird babies to do bad things, and she agrees to keep Stellaluna only if she will deny her bat instincts. The situation is hard for Stellaluna, gagging down the bugs instead of the fruit she likes, and not being allowed to hang upside down. In a discussion about the story, I would include ideas about how the mother bird could have been more open-minded or might have helped Stellaluna find her bat family. I would definitely talk about how difficult survival can be for animals and how sometimes they have to adapt to circumstances that are less than ideal just to stay alive. I know this book is used as an adoption story, but the animal survival element should be emphasized to balance out what comes across as prejudice from the bird mother. Those are just my thoughts about a book that we really love for its storytelling more than anything else.
What do you think? How has your family discussed Stellaluna?