About the Holiday
Spring has sprung – or is right around the corner – so today’s holiday reminds us to watch out for the butterflies in your area. With more than 20,000 species of butterflies around the world, these delicate beauties are one of the most recognized and beloved natural wonders on earth. Butterflies are important to our ecosystem, too, but habitat destruction and climate change are decreasing their numbers by alarming amounts. You can help! By planting milkweed and other plants as well as nectar-producing flowers in your yard or community, you can create an area where butterflies can find shelter, food, and a place to lay their eggs. To learn more about saving monarch butterflies, visit Save Our Monarchs.
Butterflies Belong Here: A Story of One Idea, Thirty Kids, and a World of Butterflies
Written by Deborah Hopkinson | Illustrated by Meilo So
Last spring, the narrator of the story reveals, she was a “little like a caterpillar…quiet and almost invisible.” She had recently moved to the United States and couldn’t read English. The school librarian gave her books with a lot of pictures and her favorite was one about butterflies. Since then she has learned a lot about Monarch butterflies and how they “make a long, long journey” just like her family did. The frame of her story leads into a detailed discussion of the spring monarch migration and the life cycle of caterpillars.
When summer came, the girl thought for sure she would see monarch butterflies. She “wanted to see them flit from flower to flower sipping nectar.” But no matter where she looked—the park, grassy fields, an even the community garden—she couldn’t find any. She began to wonder “if monarch butterflies belonged here.” Sometimes she wondered if her family did either. Turning the page, kids learn how a caterpillar transforms into a butterfly and how, once it emerges from its chrysalis, it “pumps fluid into its wings, which expand and take their final shape” and creates the “straw” it drinks nectar with.
In the fall when school began, the girl rushed to find her favorite book. Now she could read it, and she discovered that butterflies need milkweed to multiply and thrive. She also learned that milkweed is sparse now, due to habitat destruction due to building, chemical use, and climate change. She also learned some shocking facts, such as “in 20 years, the number of monarchs has fallen by 90 percent.”
One day the librarian calls the girl over and tells her that she has ordered new butterfly books and offers them to her first. The librarian also explains that over the summer she created a monarch way station. The girl knows about these special butterfly gardens. She points out the library window at a place within the school yard that would make a perfect monarch way station. “‘It takes just one person to get things started,’” the librarian says. “‘I’m not that kind of person,’” the girl whispers. But the librarian is encouraging. She reminds the girl about the amazing trip monarchs take and says, “‘It’s surprising what such a tiny creature can do.’” Readers next learn about the generations of butterflies that are born during the summer and how the final generation is different from the rest.
During the winter, the girl remembers the monarchs who lived “high in the fir forests of Mexico, waiting out the cold to make their long journey north.” She thinks about what the librarian said, and wonders if she could “ever be brave enough to speak up, take charge, and be noticed.” But when she presents a research project on butterflies for her class, the kids loved it. At the end she tells the class how important butterflies are and that they need to help them.
She is surprised by how excited the class is to help and that they want to make a butterfly garden as the class project. The teacher turns to her and asks if she has any ideas on what they could do. The girl is prepared. She turns her poster around and shows them her “plan for a monarch way station, the beginning of a timeline, a list of supplies, and how much it might cost.” And so, they started on their garden. Over the next few weeks, the girl says “‘I could feel myself growing and changing, little by little.’”
The class talked to the principal, made a presentation to parents, and invited gardeners and scientists to speak to the class. They also wrote letters to students in other places who were doing similar projects. Then they held an all-school assembly and asked for volunteers. Kids from all classes—even kindergarten—signed up. They even went to a town council meeting and explained how important milkweed was. They asked that it not be sprayed with poison but instead “be planted in every city park.” The mayor even shook the girl’s hand and told her the city needed citizens like her.
Finally, with a fence and garden plots built, it was planting day. When spring class picture time rolls around again, the girl can be found in the front row, right in the center and holding the class sign. The kids met students from another school who have been helping the butterflies for two years and now serve as monarch trackers, placing tags on their legs and following their migration routes. The class’s monarch way station is thriving, and while they don’t have monarchs yet, the girl is already thinking about how the class can become monarch trackers next year. Just like a caterpillar, the girl thinks again, she has grown and emerged “as something new, unexpected, surprising.”
Backmatter includes an Author’s Note about the story, a guide for making a school or home monarch way station, facts about monarchs, and books and internet resources for learning more about monarchs and how you can help.
Deborah Hopkinson’s moving and educational story combines a fictional account of growing up with scientific information on butterflies. The structure is exceptionally effective in showing kids and adults that some children find their voice, discover a talent, or overcome hesitation or shyness when they become involved in a cause or activity they believe in. The school librarian and the teacher both model actions and words that can encourage children to express and extend themselves. The girl’s thoughts allow children to see that fears of speaking up or taking charge are not uncommon while also reassuring them that by taking even small actions one step at a time, their confidence will grow. The cyclical structure of the story enhances the idea that change is gradual—in nature and in people. Hopkinson’s text revolving around butterflies and making a butterfly garden way station will excite kids to do the same at their school, at home, or in their community.
Meilo So’s gorgeous and tender illustrations portray vibrant scenes of flower bedecked balconies, blooming community gardens, and a busy, colorful town. So cleverly depicts the library’s stacks of books in similar floral hues, connecting the nurturing of children and butterflies. The faces of all the children and the adults are thoughtful and enthusiastic. Readers can clearly see the protagonist’s physical growth throughout the seasons as well as her developing self-confidence and will want to watch for ways in which she mirrors a butterfly. The children in the classroom and the school are a diverse mix and demonstrate the enthusiasm and determination of kids who want to make a difference.
So is a master at illustrating butterflies, caterpillars, and other insects, and her realistic images will fascinate readers. Children get to see a caterpillar form a chrysalis, transform into a butterfly inside, and emerge. They also see the seeds inside a milkweed pod as well as the plants themselves, throngs of monarchs during migration, and maps of migration routes.
Exhilarating, poignant, and inspirational on many levels, Butterflies Belong Here is highly recommended for home libraries and a must for school and public libraries.
Ages 5 – 8 and up
Chronicle Books, 2020 | ISBN 978-1452176802
Discover more about Deborah Hopkinson and her books on her website.
National Learn about Butterflies Day Activity
Beautiful Butterflies Maze
Can you find the sixteen words associated with butterflies in this printable puzzle?
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