Search form

Butterfly Tales: New Picture Books Explore the Magic of the Life Cycle

Share Butterflies can be an important ingredient in a recipe for great classroom lessons. To improve your recipe, mix in a couple of new picture books told from two very different perspectives. The fascinating life cycle of the butterfly comes to life in these two special books, Butterfly House and La Mariposa.

The fall migration is on, and primary-age students around the world are learning about a tireless journey across continents -- the migration of the monarch butterfly.

Butterflies can be an important ingredient in a recipe for great classroom lessons. Young students marvel at the science behind the magical transformation from caterpillar to Painted Lady. Maps marking the long migration bring geography to life. Nonfiction books detail the life cycle and the annual treks north and south. Now, two recently released picture books add a new dimension. Each is a memoir of sorts, the story of the butterfly life cycle told from two very different perspectives.


The first of the new butterfly books is Butterfly House (Scholastic Press), a lyrical memoir from award-winning author Eve Bunting.

In her backyard, a young girl rescues a caterpillar from the clutches of a hovering jay. The girl and her grandfather create a safe home for the caterpillar and keep watch as fascinating changes take place. Finally, a butterfly emerges from its chrysalis:

Butterfly House Book Cover

Inside that magic place
she grew,
transformed herself,
came out, drooped, limp and slack,
with crumpled wings.
She was a butterfly,
all spotted, orange, black, and brown
as if someone had shaken paints
and let the drops fall down.

The time comes to release the butterfly, a bittersweet time for the young girl. Tears fill her eyes as she and her grandfather bid the butterfly good-bye.

Years later, an elderly woman marvels at her garden, which teems with beautiful butterflies. Why is her garden so full of the beautiful creatures? Neighbors' gardens with the same variety of flowers attract few. The woman knows exactly why. She remembers back to the time when she and her grandfather made a safe place for a doomed caterpillar.

Greg Shed's pastel gouaches on canvas are a perfect accompaniment to Bunting's sentimental and poetic prose. Full of earthy tones and light, each painting is a cause to linger.

Bunting closes the book with a page of detailed directions for creating a butterfly jar and a butterfly house and for caring for larva and butterflies.


La Mariposa Book Cover Francisco and his family are settling into the tent city that will be their new home. While the oldest members of his family work the cauliflower and lettuce farms, Francisco settles into first grade.

Francisco is lost in first grade. He speaks no English, and his teacher wants only English to be spoken. So Francisco spends most of his days pretending to pay attention, picking up an occasional new word, and daydreaming as he watches the caterpillar in a jar that sits near his desk.

The caterpillar -- la mariposa -- will be Francisco's ticket to acceptance.

As the days go by, the world inside that jar and Francisco's world become one. To try to understand how the caterpillar turns into a butterfly, Francisco studies the words in a butterfly book. He "reads" those words so many times that he can close his eyes and see the black letters on the page -- but he still can't understand their meaning.

Communication is difficult, but Francisco finds that he communicates best with his pencil and crayons. His beautiful drawing of a butterfly makes its way to a classroom bulletin board. Then it disappears -- only to reappear under very special circumstances.

La Mariposa (Houghton Mifflin) author Francisco Jimenez was born in Mexico and immigrated with his family to California. As a child, he worked the fields that he writes about. The unsentimental and poignant story he tells in La Mariposa is largely autobiographical. (The story Jimenez tells is pre-ESL and pre-inclusion. Francisco seems to get little help from his teacher; but the book's dedication -- "To my teachers, whose faith in my ability and guidance helped me break the migrant circuit" -- tells the real truth.) Jimenez's text contains a sprinkling of Spanish expressions, which are defined in a handy glossary at the back of the book.

Rich, colorful illustrations by Simon Silva, another child of the migrant camps, capture the metamorphosis of la mariposa -- and of Francisco. La Mariposa includes gentle messages about tolerance, respect, and friendship. Subtle symbolism of flight and freedom flutters through the text and paintings that fill its pages. The book is available in both English and Spanish editions.

The books above are available in bookstores. If your local bookstore doesn't have the book you want, ask your bookseller to order it for you. Or contact the publisher:

  • Butterfly House, written by Eve Bunting and illustrated by Greg Shed, is published by Scholastic, Inc. Call 1-800-SCHOLASTIC.

  • La Mariposa, written by Francisco Jimenez and illustrated by Simon Silva, is published by Houghton Mifflin Company, 222 Berkeley Street, Boston, MA 02116.

Article by Gary Hopkins
Education World® Editor-in-Chief
Copyright © 1999 Education World

Related Articles from Education World

Please check out our other articles this week: