As I sit on my back porch reading, I often look up to watch the world flutter by at a languid pace. I’m surrounded by a border of overgrown abelia bushes that arch and bloom, luring silent hummingbirds and graceful Eastern Tiger Swallowtails. I stretch in the blessed shade and marvel at the strong wings that come this way each summer.
Aston, Dianna Hutts. A Butterfly Is Patient. Illus. by Sylvia Long. Chronicle, 2011.
Poetic text and bright, detailed watercolors lift this informative nonfiction book to lofty heights. Employing the same accessible format of their two previous winners, An Egg Is Quiet and A Seed Is Sleepy, this talented duo trace the insects’ development from egg to flight. Along the way, readers will learn how butterflies and moths differ, as well as facts about metamorphosis, pollination, camouflage, and migration. Young and old will succumb to the temptation to pore over Long’s lifelike close-ups of dozens of caterpillars and butterflies, clearly labeled without detracting from the beauty of each winged creature. “A butterfly is creative,” the author notes. So is this lovely book, fine as wing scales “stacked like shingles on a roof.” Recommended for ages 7-10.
Engle, Margarita. Summer Birds: The Butterflies of Maria Merian. illus. by Julie Paschkis. Holt, 2010.
“Each year, the sky fills with summer birds. Many people call them butterflies. Everyone believes that these insects come from mud, as if by magic. I disagree.” In the Middle Ages, people believed insects were evil. Maria Merian, a brave German girl born in 1647, defied her culture’s conception of nature and its expectations for women. Intrigued by butterflies, she observed their life cycle and carefully painted the insects and their habitats. The illustrator’s vivid jewel tones and profusion of vines and imaginary creatures evoke the passionate nature of this remarkable woman, copies of whose prints now live in the world’s art museums. Engle’s concluding note provides additional details on Maria Merian, who went on to become a scientist, artist and world explorer. Educators can use this fine picture-book biography for a bevy of cross-curricular activities and discussions. For ages 7-10.
Kroll, Virginia L. Butterfly Boy. illus. by Gerardo Suzan. Boyds Mills, 2003. This tender story features young Emilio and his invalid grandfather, who find delight in a flock of red admiral butterflies. The boy senses his abuelo is “smiling inside, even though his mouth could no longer show it.” Emilio is able to get near the bright insects, inspiring his neighbor to call him “Butterfly Boy.” During the winter, he reads in a book that the butterflies are attracted to white surfaces, such as their garage wall. Emilio’s excitement upon their return in the spring turns to dismay as he sees his father is painting the garage blue. What can he do? Emilio snatches his white shirt from the clothesline and puts it on — and the red butterflies flock to him. Like Abuelo and his family, readers will find reason to smile when reading this sensitive story enlivened by Suzan’s bright, playful watercolors. Ages 5-8.
Sierra, Judy. The Beautiful Butterfly: A Folktale from Spain. illus. by Victoria Chess. Clarion, 2000. Make room for laughter with Sierra’s lilting variant of a Spanish folktale that features a lady butterfly courted by a motley procession of suitors. A cricket arrives first, wanting to marry her. The butterfly poses this crucial question: “And if I do marry you, how will you sing to our babies?” The cricket’s annoying click fails the test. Next, the frog comes to woo. His ugly “Croo-AH!” just won’t do. Finally, a mouse, with a soothing “ee-ee-ee-ee-ee,” is the perfect choice. Unexpectedly, though, Mouse falls into a pond and is eaten by a fish. Sierra comes to the rescue here; realizing this conclusion saddened children, she researched the story’s variants and discovered some endings that involved underwear. Butterfly and everyone who hears the news mourns, some in outlandish ways. The turning point comes when the king runs around in his royal underwear. Even the fish laughs — and out pops the mouse. Don’t miss this one! Ages 6-8.