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Top 100 Picture Books #71: Stellaluna by Janell Cannon

#71 Stellaluna by Janell Cannon (1993)
27 points

Beautiful story, beautiful illustrations. – B Patton

An adventure in identity. – Rose Marie Moore

Sweet baby.  When Stellaluna first came out I was in high school and my mom was working in the oldest independent bookstore in Kalamazoo, Michigan, The Athena (until Barnes and Noble snuffed it out like a candle, but that’s a tale for another day).  So I remember the release of this book.  Mom was charmed, and I was impressed by the illustrations.  It looked like nothing else I’d ever seen before.  On the one hand you had these lush intricately detail full-color pictures.  On the other hand, it was peppered with the most delicate of thin-lined spot illustrations in the corners.  And as someone who has lived in multiple homes where bats have gotten in and flown about, I know just how scary they can be.  So to see this utterly realistic and yet also A-DOR-ABLE creature in this book . . . well, I was charmed.  The publisher released a Stellaluna bat toy not long thereafter, and I believe it hung in my dorm room for a spell.  Not many other children’s books could boast equal representation.

The plot is the typical fish out of water tale, but with a nice twist.  A baby fruit bat is raised by birds, and finds that her natural inclinations are different from theirs.  The mother bird understands but informs her that she must adhere to the rules.  Not long thereafter Stellaluna is reunited with her mother, but in an interesting twist she doesn’t immediately abandon her bird family.  It’s not too dissimilar from Leo Lionni’s fabulous Nicolas, Where Have You Been? but with a different take on the situation.

The truly splendid Kirkus review said of it, “The appealingly furry, wide-eyed, fawn-colored bats have both scientific precision and real character; they’re displayed against intense skies or the soft browns and greens of the woodland in spare, beautifully constructed (occasionally even humorous) compositions. Delightful and informative but never didactic: a splendid debut.”

About Elizabeth Bird

Elizabeth Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.


  1. Janell used to work with my wife Ann at the Carlsbad Public Library in California. When Janell moved on to write picture books, Ann and the rest of the staff put on their smiley faces while secretly lamenting the fact that they no longer had a person to do homemade, hand-drawn birthday cards on staff. Ann has a Janell birthday card or two and we have both visited her home and have seen several of her original paintings. This is a favorite of mine to read to my first graders. I don’t think I have ever missed a year reading it. And the really good news is that this book was a favorite even before I knew that Janell worked at the library with Ann. I loved reading this book to my own children. Stellaluna is among the very first books that I purchased for my first grade library. Good to see it on this list; it definitely belongs!