May 4, 2012
Stella's Dancing Days
By Sander Asher
Illustrated by Katheryn Brown
No Illustrator Website
1-4 Preschool Primary Harcourt 32 pp.
978-0152016135 Hardcover $16.00
Stella's Dancing Days is a quiet book suited to cozy chairs and a parent's voice. It's the story of Stella, a kitten who loves to dance. She delights the Tall One (a boy who wears a cowboy hat) with her grands jetes, so he brings her home, where she charms the Tall One's younger sister, the Gentle One with pirouettes, and when the Littlest One (the baby of the family) won't stop crying, she makes him laugh by waltzing with her ball. But as Stella grows up and finds bugs to stalk and window sills to sit in, she dances less and less. While the children (also pictured as older) miss her dancing days, Stella does not - she's preoccupied with the important business of preparing for her own kittens, three boys and three girls, all of whom love to dance.
Brown's watercolors have a soft, nostalgic feel, as if we're peering back in time with a slightly hazy lens. The children, the magnificent oak tree and Stella herself occupy their world with a natural, soothing ease, one that suits Asher's story to a tea. Though Stella's kittenish antics are described in dance terms, she is pictured as very much the realistic cat, so while it looks like she's performing grand balletic moves, we know she's just being a kitten, (the one exception to this realism is when the children dress her in a skirt and blouse as seen on the cover, but it's for a tea party and so explained). The story progresses gently to its natural conclusion, a conclusion that is comforting and perfect in its predictability. In the process, Stella's acceptance of each new stage of her life is a wonderful introduction to the idea that things change, and that, while you can miss the past (Stella's dancing), the present and the future have promise too, (Stella's kittens). It's an important message, one embedded deeply in a lovely, gentle story. Highly recommended. My bet is that Stella will charm you too.