Friday, September 30, 2011

Butterfly Tree: a review

At least once in a lifetime, we should be totally awed by the natural world – not by its destructive power, which so many have seen this year in the form of floods, hurricanes and fires; but by its beauty.

For me, it was a frigid late autumn evening about eight years ago.  It was the time of the annual Leonid meteor showers, and excellent visibility was in the forecast.  Excellent yes, but also in the wee hours of the morning on a bitterly cold night.  My husband agreed to be the advance scout.  We would prepare everything in advance – thermoses of hot coffee and cocoa, blankets, sleeping bags, and warm outerwear.  My husband would head up to the beach at 2am.  If the meteor showers were visible, he would come back to wake the kids and me. 

He came back and hurried us all to the beach where we parked our pickup truck facing west and sat in the bed of the truck gazing eastward.  The meteor showers were not just visible.  They were spectacular!  At least one meteor every second – zooming across the sky, long tails following behind.  As earth hurtled through the meteor storm for hours, we sat transfixed – unable to keep our eyes from the sky.  It was raining stars, and it was unspeakably beautiful!  The cold and darkness added to the atmosphere of quiet awe. Only a few hardy souls and families willing to spend the night on a Northeastern beach in November shared it.  When the sun began to rise in the east, we turned and faced the darker, western horizon to get a last look at what we knew was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

This type of singular experience, this awesome display of nature’s beauty is the topic of Butterfly Tree by Sandra Markle and illustrated by Leslie Wu. (2011 Peachtree, Atlanta, GA)  In Butterfly Tree, Markle recreates, as she explains in the Author’s Note, the day she
happened to be on the beach when a migrating flock of monarchs crossed the lake and settled for the night.  Their arrival first seemed spooky – then magical.  Being surrounded by these golden-orange butterflies and seeing a tree totally covered with fluttering, shimmering monarchs was unforgettable.
Together, Markle and Wu perfectly capture that magical, dusky twilight on Lake Erie.  Wu’s dreamy pastel illustrations in brisk autumnal hues fill out the wide, double-spread pages.  The story is told through the voice of a young girl, heading home with her dog and her mother.  The text rests lightly on the page, arranged in verses that add depth and measure to the vibrant images,
An explosion
of golden orange bits
fills the sunlight
streaming between branches.

Wow! I exclaim.  They’re not leaves.
They’re butterflies.

Monarch butterflies, Mom says.

There must be hundreds – thousands.
The tree looks like it is in motion.
All the butterflies are slowing fanning their wings.

We are in an orange cloud.
Though it contains an "Author’s Note," "Traveling Monarchs," "Books," "Websites," and a migration map, this is not a nonfiction book; however, it deserves to be included in scientific discussion with children because it captures what so many books do not – the sense of wonder about the natural world, the sense of wonder that has driven man to push past the limits of our collective knowledge.

Highly recommended for grades K-2.

Read Sandra Markle's post on her book!

Today is the first time that I'm participating in STEM Friday.
  The roundup is at Chapter Book of the Day.  Stop by and check it out!


  1. What a great experience that was! Thanks for sharing, and for joining STEM Friday this week!

  2. I love this book. It's got lots of good science in it... even if it isn't strictly a nonfiction book. Sandra Markle is a wonderful writer.


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