By Janell Cannon
Publisher HMH Books for Young Readers
Stellaluna, by Jane Cannon, offers four words rarely used in casual conversation, many synonyms for ‘said’, and a heartwarming lesson on appreciating differences in friends. Readers get to play with baby bird and bat voices, and stressful and playful situations can be emphasized through rate changes and pregnant pauses. The rhythm and length of this story, followed by the moral at the end, make it a delightful tool for filling children’s ears with new words.
Cannon could have inserted many strong vocabulary words in the text, but chose to include a scientific description of bats and their habits and diets in two concise but informative pages as a postscript. This gives adults the flexibility to enjoy the book as a simple story, or use it as a powerful teaching tool. Sometimes, you just want to read the story and get the kids in bed. Other times, it’s fun to peruse and ponder the factual clips. I appreciate authors who give me choices. The scientific description adds these meaty words to the mix: niche, preference, elongated, amphibian, species, domestic, native, implies, boasting, echolocation, keen, navigate, subtropical, forage, pollination, distribute, regeneration.
As a read-alouder, I frequently choose to insert the more advanced words listed above at the appropriate time in the story. Usually, I like to take every opportunity to expose kids to new words in fun contexts, so when the story says, “She stayed awake all day and slept at night.” I recast and add, “She learned to be diurnal, like birds, instead of nocturnal, like bats.” And I insert: “She (learned to be an insectivore and) ate bugs without making faces.”
Adding your own words, voices, and dramatic variation makes reading aloud challenging and fun!
Opportunities for recasting with other big words: