My first real encounter with bats was as a soon-to-be 5th grader at Carlsbad Caverns. We hiked through the caverns by day and escaped the searing heat. At dusk we sat in an amphitheater and watched the bats exit by the trillions. At least that’s how I remember it.
I remember sitting with my shoulders pulled up around my ears while my eyes scanned the near sky. I had no desire for a bat to either bite my neck or get caught in my hair. Both seemed fairly dreadful. Both still seem fairly dreadful.
Then I moved to Cote d’Ivoire–home to one of the largest populations of dog-faced fruit bats. Yippee. Our campus had hundreds of fruit trees. Yippee Skippee. I lost my fear of them biting my neck or landing on my head when I was out in the open, but I still wasn’t a fan.
Then I met Stellaluna, the main character in a book of the same title by Janell Cannon. Now there’s at least one bat in the world that I regard with some warmth.
Stellaluna becomes a TCB–Third Culture Bat–in the course of the story. She and her mother are attacked and separated one night and Stellaluna lands in a birds’ nest. She is graciously adopted by the Mama Bird and she quickly learns to adapt to the ways of birds. She promises never to sleep hanging by her feet and she gratefully gulps down the bugs fed to her by Mama Bird.
As time goes on the little fruit bat makes good friends with the birds, begins to think like a bird, and she acts like a bird. One day she meets some other fruitbats who are quick to point out that Stellaluna is a bat. She makes friends with them, too.
This is a great story of learning to assimilate without losing who you really are. Stellaluna reminds TCKs (I doubt there are any TCBs reading the book) that it’s OK to think and act like the culture around you just as much as it’s OK to think and act like the culture you were born into.
The book is beautifully illustrated. The portrayals of the birds and the bats are packed with emotion. You can see the dismay, the humor, the fatigue, the elation–and so much more in the animals’ expressions. Cannon shows with words and pictures the plight of this TCB.
Find a copy of Stellaluna and you might just find a special corner in your heart for a bat.