The Path of the Butterfly
by Dalene Sovine
Morris Publishing

"It would take about two months from the time the class got the caterpillar until the butterfly would hatch from the chrysalis."

A kindergarten class raises a caterpillar from worm to cocoon and beyond, noting changes along the way. When the ultimate metamorphosis is complete, and a butterfly emerges from the chrysalis, the children witness the joy of freedom and some harsh truths about nature.

Where kids’ books are concerned, the word “caterpillar” has long evoked warm reference The Very Hungry Caterpillar, the classic tale by Eric Carle published over 40 years ago. The children who first read of that particular bug’s journey from birth to winged beauty now read the book to their own children, appreciating the simplicity with which that story showcases the awe of nature and the relatable childhood experience of being little and growing bigger. This new story offers a fresh but no less compelling view of the magical stages that make a butterfly, while also portraying children’s joy at witnessing nature. Told by a resident grasshopper from the perspective of what the children and teacher experienced during their painstaking daily tracking of the bug’s progress, the narrative here focuses as much on the children’s excitement over the project as on the bug’s evolving circumstances. And unlike its famous predecessor, this book’s story is far from finished when the butterfly emerges.

A realistic view of nature is incomplete without a candid acknowledgment of the predatory food chain, and this true-to-life butterfly story has a villain. In the tradition of big bad wolves and mouse-chasing cats, the threat of a bigger, hungrier animal is a standard in children’s literature. However, animal pursuers are often depicted in cartoonish format, absolving children of the concern that real animals were injured for the protection of others. Here, the teacher’s aggressive defense of the butterfly and the story’s overall treatment of the enemy party may prove off-putting to some readers. Likewise, the story’s attempt at a David vs. Goliath sensibility, celebrating the butterfly as a triumphant little guy who beat a bigger opponent may not resonate. But there is still plenty here to hold kids’ attention and spark their taste for nature and scientific experimentation.

Indeed, parents, teachers, and kids are likely to find do-it-yourself inspiration from the kindergartners’ butterfly-observing science project, which can be easily replicated thanks to the detailed narration that doubles as step-by-step instructions. With little effort and great enthusiasm, families may visit their own local pet stores and recreate the story’s experiment to nurture their own caterpillars—and other diminutive creepers—from infancy to bloom.

Helping bring the butterfly, its trackers, and its natural foes to colorful life are the book’s abundant drawings, which realistically capture the children and the natural phenomenon they are witnessing. Preliterate youngsters can easily follow the story from its detailed, scene-enhancing images alone and can learn about butterflies by observing the pictures that quite faithfully represent key phases and events in the bug’s life. Children are said to relate best to faces, particularly those of other children, and the excited expressions of Mrs. Gardner’s students will no doubt appeal to young readers who imagine sitting in that kindergarten class and enjoying such a project with their friends.

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