Tuesday, January 27, 2009


stellaluna janell cannon book review children's bookStellaluna
by Janell Cannon
Ages 4-8

Baby Fruit Bat. Large Predatory Owl.

Separation. Anxiety.

Reconciliation. Conformity.

Exploration. Discovery.

Self-Acceptance. Friendship.

Stellaluna by Janell Cannon offers all of this and more through gorgeous illustrations and simple story-telling.

Rudely and suddenly plucked away from her mother by a persistent owl, a frightened little fruit bat, Stellaluna, lands in a soft downy nest occupied by three little baby birds Pip, Flitter and Flap, awaiting their Mama.

Pretty scary, if we think about it. But what follows definitely outweighs this jolt at the beginning when little Stellaluna learns to adapt and thrive as best as she can despite her world literally being turned upside down, managing to learn new ways even if it doesn't seem natural, and remaining upbeat through it all.

It is rather funny to see Stellaluna swallowing her apprehensions when overcome by hunger, opening her mouth along with the three baby birds so that Mama Bird can drop the bugs and worms she gathered in her mouth for her little ones. A great opportunity to help kids understand that fruit bats don't relish bugs and worms the way birds do.

And, when Stellaluna wants to hang upside down from the nest to sleep as is her nature, Mama Bird forbids it saying it confuses her three little baby birds, and she sets up some rules for all to follow. Stellaluna accepts Mama Bird's house rules and behaves as a good bird should. Another great opportunity to explain to the little ones how bats hang upside down unlike other birds or even humans who prefer being upright.

Now the baby birds and Stellaluna grow up together, rather quickly, and are ready to learn to fly. Stellaluna flaps her wings, flies confidently just like her adopted bird siblings and all seems fine until she tries to land gracefully on a tree branch like them. The illustrations are hilarious and informative about the differences between bats and birds on these couple of pages where Stellaluna realizes how embarrassing it is to have others watch her land so clumsily...

It so happens that in one of their flying expeditions Stellaluna strays far away from Pip, Flitter and Flap she flew out with and gets separated. Tired and alone, she hangs by her aching thumbs because she promised Mama Bird that she would not hang by her feet, and falls asleep.

A peculiar face wakes her up in a loud voice asking, "Why are you hanging upside down?"

Puzzled Stellaluna claims, "I am not upside down, you are!"

To which it replies, "I'm a bat. I am hanging by my feet. That makes me right side up!"

When confused Stellaluna ventures, "But Mama Bird told me I was upside down. She said I was all wrong..."

"Wrong for a bird, maybe, but not for a bat" comes the automatic yet profound response.

Stellaluna then narrates her experience so far starting from the big bad owl separating her from her Mama right down to learning to be like a bird, when one of the bats pushes through the crowd of rapt listeners and sniffs her and whispers, "You are Stellaluna. You are my baby."

Now reunited with her kin, Stellaluna learns the bat ways and enjoys a succulent mango declaring, "I'll never eat a bug as long as I live."

However she does miss Pip, Flitter and Flap and decides to visit them. She brings them back to meet her bat family.

Now, it is the three birds' turn to feel upside down. Stellaluna explains how much she enjoys eating fruits and hanging upside down and flying at nights and invites the birds to fly out with her at nightfall. The three birds, not being endowed with fruit bats' keen vision, fly erratically. Stellaluna swoops about, grabs her friends and rushes to the safety of a tree branch.

When I read this to my daughter the first time I was under the wrong impression that all bats used echolocation. But the Bat Notes at the back of the book cleared my misconception: Unlike Microchiroptera, who travel by echolocation, fruit bats depend on their keen vision and sense of smell to navigate.

Perched safely on a tree, Flitter muses, "How can we be so different and feel so much alike?". Pip wonders, "How can we feel so different and be so much alike?". Flap chirps, "I think this is quite a mystery."

"I agree", Stellaluna says, "But we are friends. And that's a fact."

Indeed. They are friends and they are different in some ways. But they are also alike in other ways. This profound realization, self-awareness and self-acceptance, as well as acceptance of others is a beautiful message this book communicates in a heartwarming tale of an unlikely creature.

The illustrations are superb, vibrant and detailed. Janell Cannon, as I read later, has always focused on under-appreciated and misunderstood creatures - Verdi a young python who does not want to grow old, Pinduli the young hyena who has issues of self-image, Crickwing the cockroach who just wants to create his art in peace - are some the characters she has created.

This book provides plenty of opportunities to talk about self-acceptance, friendship and such intangible concepts, as well as to learn about this rather off-beat creature - the fruit bat!


Anusha said...

wow! is this a book for grown ups or kids? I am thoroughly impressed by the depths the author has explored. I'm sure it'll resonate well - esp with migrant kids.
but I'll wait a while to read it to my 3yo - I don't think he'll get past the being snatched frm mama part!!

Praba Ram said...

Lovely pick! One of our favorites.
The author has beautifully balanced the scientific precision involving the natural characteristics of fruit bats with a neat story-telling/drama element - a treat for those of us hungry for introducing science/nature through beautiful, child-friendly fiction!

We've read Verdi as well - one unique fiction for 4-8 yr olds involving a python named Verdi. Interesting choice of pythons for a character in a story with Verdi for a name! :-)

Thanks Sheela for bringing Janell Cannon to ST's readers!

ranjani.sathish said...

A very different kind of book and lovely ideas too ! Great review Sheela. Makes me want to get hold of the book for my son.

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