Monday, April 7, 2008

Butterfly Bonanza

I was a teacher for more than thirty years. One of the joys of teaching in the elementary grades is having your students for all subjects—and, thus, being able to use literature across the curriculum. I especially loved connecting literature—especially poetry—and science. One of our second grade science units for many years was the study of butterflies, moths, and metamorphosis.

Recently, I received a package of poetry books in the mail from Wordsong. In the box, I found a collection of poems, The Monarch’s Progress: Poems with Wings, that I wish had been available for me to use when I was still teaching second grade.

Written & illustrated by Avis Harley
Wordsong, 2008

The Monarch’s Progress, which was written and illustrated by Avis Harley, is a poetry book I highly recommend to teachers for use during a unit of study on butterflies and metamorphosis. There’s plenty of scientific information embedded in the lines of Harley’s poems. She writes about observing the scales of a monarch’s wings under a microscope in Wondrous Wings; about how butterflies taste with their feet and sip nectar through a proboscis in Feet Treat; about the different stages in a monarch’s life cycle in four acrostic poems; about a physical characteristic that distinguishes a monarch butterfly as a male in You’ve Got Male; and about the migration of monarchs in The Skyway to Mexico.

The Monarch’s Progress would also be an excellent book to share in class during a creative writing session to show students how writers employ different types of poetry to express their thoughts and to convey their feelings. Harley has written the poems for this book in a variety of forms, including cinquains, acrostics, haiku, and limericks.

The poem Feet Treat is written in the form of a sonnet. Here are the poem’s last six lines:

Imagine if we tasted with our toes—
What grounded flavors do you think we’d find?
A crush of mint leaves? Sunbaked seaweed? Snows?
Sweet dew? Or apples summer left behind?

If we would let our toes seek what we eat,
What smorgasbord would greet our eager feet?

Wondrous Wings, a poem I mentioned above, is composed of four three-line (tercet) stanzas. Here’s an excerpt from Wondrous Wings:

The magnifying glass can show
what we, as viewers, never know:
that scales are lined up in a row.

So small are monarch scales it takes
tens of thousands of dazzling flakes
to make up all these rooftop flakes.

One of the most intriguiing poems in the book, Catching a Butterfly (2), is about a picture/carving of a butterfly found on a frieze on the wall of an Egyptian Pharaoh’s tomb. Along with the poem, Harley includes an illustration of the frieze. Here’s an excerpt from the poem:

Forever must this lovely thing
Soar within a sunless spring.

Caught upon a buried sky,
millennia have passed it by.

Yet still, across the muted years,
a whisper of wing haunts our ears.

In the Small Matters section at the back of the book, Harley includes further information about what’s written in her poems and illustrated in her pictures.

Here’s what she says about Catching a Butterfly (2):

Butterflies have appeared in art since the beginning of civilization. Ancient Egyptian tombs, like the one depicted in this illustration, contained paintings or carvings of butterflies in marsh scenes on the banks of the Nile River. This limestone frieze was found in the tomb of Ka-em-Nofiet and dates from 2450 B.C. Amongst a flock of birds, the single, giant butterfly seems to hold a place of unusual significance.

In addition to Small Matters, Harley includes an introduction in which she explains why she chose specific poetic forms for particular poems.

The Monarch’s Progress is an excellent poetry book to use across the curriculum in science and writing. It’s a neat literary package in which information about butterflies is conveyed through poetry, prose, and pictures.

More Butterfly Books

Written by Yvonne Winer
Illustrated by Karen Lloyd-Jones
Charlesbridge, 2001

Butterflies Fly is a combination poetry book and nonfiction book. It contains short, rhyming verses about how, when where, and why “butterflies fly” and brief prose paragraphs, at the back of the book, that contain information about the butterflies depicted in Lloyd-Jones’s exquisite realistic illustrations.

Each of the book’s two-page spreads includes a five-line verse and a full-color illustration of a butterfly printed on the left-hand page and a detailed, full-page picture of one or more of that same type of butterfly on the right hand page. In the large illustrations, the different types of butterflies are shown fluttering in a mountain valley, sipping nectar from flowers, or blending in with foliage. Here is are two excerpts from the book: the verse and the prose paragraph about the Indian Leaf butterfly from Southern East Asia:

Butterflies settle
On leaves beneath trees,
Camouflages patterns
That mimic and tease.
That’s where butterflies fly.

This butterfly frequently rests on the ground in leaf litter, where it becomes virtually invisible. This camouflage has given it its name. The upperside of both sexes is brightly colored with orange and purplish-blue, but the brown patterning of the underside and its unusual wing shape makes this butterfly an effective leaf mimic.

Butterflies Fly is a good book to read aloud to young children. It’s also a fine book to have on hand in the classroom for students to browse through and wonder at the beautiful pictures of butterflies.

Written by Joanne Ryder
Illustrated by Lynne Cherry
Dutton, 1989

Classified as nonfiction, Where Butterflies Grow is an informational book about the life cycle of a butterfly that is written in a lovely, lyrical text. In the book, Joanne Ryder speaks to readers and asks them to imagine themselves as a black swallowtail as it progresses from caterpillar to pupa to adult butterfly.

Here’s an excerpt from the beginning of the book when the larva has just hatched from its egg:

you are a creeper
thin and dark
living on
a long lacy leaf.
When the wind
tickles the leaf
you and your world

Like a tiny acrobat
you creep,
balancing and
dangling high
the earth below.

Ryder’s text is enhanced by Lynne Cherry’s detailed illustrations that show flowers and plants in all their summer glory. In her pictures, she also includes many of the animals that may be found sitting among, walking through, flying around, or settling on the flowers: mice, toads, rabbits, skunks, squirrels, birds, grasshoppers, bees, and other insects. Cherry takes us down into the greenery so we can see what the world of the black swallowtail caterpillar and butterfly may seem like from their perspectives. Ryder includes a page with directions for “Growing Butterflies in Your Garden” at the back of the book. Where Butterflies Grow is a book I always read aloud during our unit of study on butterflies.

Written by Helen Frost
Illustrated by Leonid Gore
Atheneum, 2008

Like Where Butterflies Grow, Monarch and Milkweed is classified as nonfiction. It is a book about the life cycles of the monarch butterfly and the milkweed plant. The book begins in spring with the return of the monarchs. A monarch sips nectar from milkweed blossoms. The milkweed’s flowers fall away and the monarch finds a mate. Later, the female monarch flits from milkweed to milkweed laying eggs. Then a larva hatches from an egg and the book follows it through its metamorphosis from caterpillar to adult butterfly. By the time the monarch emerges from its chrysalis, the leaves of the milkweed plant are full of holes and have turned brown. The adult monarch now sips nectar from zinnias and black-eyed Susans before she sets of on her migration south to Mexico. Eventually, the milkweed’s pods burst and its seeds are carried off by an October wind.

The book includes an Author’s Note with further information about the migration of monarch butterflies, milkweed plants, and links to two butterfly websites. With Frost’s spare, lyrical text, and Gore’s large, dreamy illustrations, Monarch and Milkweed would make a fine book to read aloud to young children who are studying about butterflies in the classroom or to children who are interested in nature.


The Nonfiction Monday Roundup is at Picture Book of the Day.


Mary Lee said...

I'll pass this post along to our second grade teachers -- perfect for their study!

Elaine Magliaro said...

Mary Lee,

I think your second grade teachers will really like the new poetry collection by Avis Harley. It's perfect for use in a curriculum unit about butterflies.

Sarah Stevenson said...

Great review! I've featured it on the Cybils blog as today's review of the day. :)

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