Sunday, July 10, 2011

A Butterfly Is Patient - beautiful combination of poetry and nonfiction (ages 4 - 9)

Yesterday, I watched a little girl follow a butterfly around a mountain pond as it flew from flower to flower. She was absolutely captivated by this little yellow butterfly, and I couldn’t help smiling watching her fascination. A wonderful new book to share with your children is A Butterfly Is Patient, by the award-winning team of Dianna Hutts Aston and Sylvia Long. This beautiful book combines captivating, detailed watercolor illustrations, poetic descriptions and clear explanations of butterfly life cycles, behavior and body structure.
A Butterfly Is PatientA Butterfly is Patient
by Dianna Hutts Aston
illustrated by Sylvia Long
CA: Chronicle Books, 2011
ages 4 - 9
available at your local public library and on Amazon
As you open up A Butterfly Is Patient, you discover an army of caterpillars (yes, that's the plural noun!), with over 30 species from the Spotted Fritillary to the Malay Lacewing, creeping along twigs and leafs, illustrated in Sylvia Long’s clear, vibrant watercolors. Children will be fascinated by the sheer variety of these different caterpillars, and drawn into this book immediately. Each species is labeled clearly throughout the book, so readers can compare the different stages of the same species. This book invites children and their parents to explore the variety and complexity of butterflies, and is perfect for summer reading as children connect what they see outdoors with what they can explore through their reading.

A Butterfly Is Patient follows the same pattern that Aston and Hutts developed with their award-winning books A Seed Is Sleepy and An Egg Is Quiet. Each double page spread combines poetic descriptions written in large script, with clear concise nonfiction information, all illustrated with sumptuous watercolors. This format works wonderfully for many different ages, capturing the interest of young children as they look at the vibrant pictures and absorb the poetic descriptions and start to learn the scientific information, and engaging older children as they seek out details in the illustrations and master the scientific facts. This book will work well as a read aloud at home or in the classroom for younger children, and as a book that children will return to as they explore the different facets of information in the drawings and text.

You can see a preview of this wonderful book at this Scrib’d site or the Chronicle Books site. I found the description of a butterfly’s “shiny, powdery scales” particularly interesting. Aston explains that “without scales, (a butterfly’s) wings would be as transparent as the wings of a bee or dragonfly.” These scales help form the patterns on the butterfly’s wings, but they also can help keep a butterfly’s wings the right temperature for flying by absorbing heat from the sun.

Children are particularly fascinated by the life cycle of the butterfly, and they will love exploring this here. As Aston writes,
“A butterfly is patient.
The egg hatches,
the caterpillar emerges,
feasting on leaves
before it wraps itself
into its warm,
protective chrysalis,
patiently waiting ...
to soar!”
©2011, Dianna Hutts Aston
Nic Bishop Butterflies And MothsAs you turn the final page, you discover that the caterpillars from the beginning have all turned into adult butterflies, now a rabble of butterflies! Each one is meticulously painted and clearly labeled - perfect for the budding naturalist and backyard explorers to match with the caterpillars from the beginning pages.

It would be fascinating to have children compare A Butterfly Is Patient with Nic Bishop's Butterflies and Moths, comparing the information and the effect of photographs and watercolors. You can find more activities for your young naturalists at the site Growing With Science. They have several specifically exploring caterpillars and butterflies.

I do wish that this book had included a map letting readers know where these different butterflies live. This really does straddle between poetry and science, clearly drawing on both to engage readers. But I always find maps help children place animals in our larger world, providing concrete information about where they live.

A Butterfly is Patient has received starred reviews from School Library Journal and Publisher’s Weekly. You can also read reviews at Wrapped in Foil and A Patchwork of Books.

Nonfiction Monday is a great resource for finding out great nonfiction books to share with your children. Today it's hosted by Brenda at ProseandKahn, a blog full of great resources for parents, teachers and librarians.

The review copy was kindly sent by the publishers, Chronicle Books. I also recommend seeking out Aston and Long’s previous books, A Seed Is Sleepy and An Egg is Quiet.

Review ©2011 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books.


  1. What a lovely review! Chasing a yellow butterfly around a mountain pond sounds like a perfectly wonderful way to spend a summer day.

    (and thank you for the links to my blogs.)

  2. That's a great review, Mary Ann! It would be a good book for children to learn about butterflies. As you say, they are fascinated by them.