While most children Stella Ehrhart's age are thinking about what they're going to be for Halloween, an 8-year-old from Nebraska is thinking about who she's going to be each day of the week.
But don't misinterpret what she's doing as "dressing in costume," her mother said. Stella is dressing "in character" based on what she has in her closet and where her imagination takes her.
All it takes is a black dress and a red-tissue paper flower in her hair and she's jazz singer Billie Holiday. Or, she's Jane Goodall with a flannel shirt and stuffed chimp tucked under her arm. With a khaki shirt emblazoned with a police badge she's her Aunt Pam, a police officer.
"She's definitely drawn to characters that have overcome a lot, with a lot of inner strength," her mother, Stephanie Anderson, said.
Her ideas come from books, people she learns about or even friends and relatives, she said. The list goes on and on because she hasn't repeated a single costume since she started last year at the beginning of second grade, Stella and her mother say. Stella was reading Laura Ingalls Wilder's "Little House" series about a pioneer family's life and wondered what the author wore. The next day she showed up to school in a dress with leggings, Stella said, starting a tradition that lasted the entire school year. She resurrected it this year as she began third grade.
It's important to not repeat characters, Stella said in a phone interview, because doing so would mean fewer opportunities to try something new.
"I think it's better to focus on as much as we can," she said. "If I repeat an outfit five times that's five times we don't have for a new character."
Not all of the characters are obvious or distracting, which minimizes their potential to disturb the classroom, her mother said. To the contrary, teachers and students love it because they tend to learn something new about the person Stella is emulating.
"I think its just in her genes," said Anderson, who worked in local theater in Omaha before she had kids. Stella's father is the director of Omaha's Rose theater.
"She does this all on her own," Anderson said in a phone interview. "I don't costume her or buy anything special for this, we shop at Target and Goodwill for clothes."
Stella shared insights into her five favorite costumes and what she has learned from them.
-- Harriet Tubman: "I like her because she led people on the Underground Railroad, she was a slave. ... I like how she helped 26 people and risked her life for them."
-- Helen Keller: "I like how she never gave up on learning and she kept trying until she learned how to read Braille."
-- Rosa Parks: "She said she had enough of it. She stayed on her seat on the bus. That was her way of saying, 'No way, this is not fair and I don't like it!' "
-- Anne Frank: "People just think she's the person who hid behind the door but she had to move three times. ... You've got to do what you have to do."
Jane Adams (activist): "It's good to do what you have to do to help people, especially those in need."
So, what is she going to do for Halloween?
"I'm not sure yet," Stella said. "I haven't really thought about it yet as a special day, so probably whatever I had planned."