I used to hand-sell Janell Cannon’s Stellaluna (Harcourt, $17.00 or Red Wagon Books in a $7.99 board book) all the time, but I haven’t recommended it in ages. I was wondering the other day why that is. I think, like in the case of Mr. Popper’s Penguins, that I assume most everyone knows about these kinds of books. They’ve been around for 10 or more years — Stellaluna was first published in 1993. They are still in print and available on publisher’s back lists. They’ve had a flurry of activity, press, and publicity surrounding them. But I’ve been proven wrong again and again. So I need to start pulling Stellaluna out more often.
Stellaluna is a soft, lovely book. Cannon’s illustrations are detailed but uncluttered, if that makes sense. The illustrations are mostly close-ups of the important characters and actions. The drawings of the bats and birds are so minutely detailed, you can practically see every hair and feather. The background, however, is limited to sky, moon, tree, forest. In this way, the reader connects with Stellaluna’s plight and doesn’t get distracted by peripheral things.
Like the illustrations, the story is soft and lovely. There is a satisfying cadence to the words, and the humor is quiet and endearing. The humorous parts often occur in the spaces between the words and the images. After Stellaluna gets lost in the forest, she is adopted by a family of birds. Bird ways are not bat ways and Stellaluna tries desperately to fit in with her new family. The text tells us of her genuine intentions, but the illustrations show us Stellaluna’s awkward attempts to land on a branch or to *not* hang by her feet. The resolution is both comforting (her mother finds her) as well as a nod to the importance of being the best you you can be, instead of trying to fit in with everyone around you. The moral, however, doesn’t overshadow the story or the illustrations, which, can I say again, are soft and lovely.