Small, delicate, and beautiful, butterflies are among the most captivating animals on the planet. They are frequently studied in classrooms and observed in nature. Different species of butterflies have unique stories—from the Monarch's epic migration to seeing Swallowtails on the parsley in your own garden. The life cycle of a butterfly is often the primary focus of nonfiction titles. The egg to caterpillar to chrysalis to butterfly transition is endlessly fascinating and wondrous.
There are an estimated 12-15,000 species of butterflies on the planet, which live on all the continents except Antarctica. Though no butterfly lives longer than a year and most only live a few weeks, these innocent animals can help pollinate plants and some eat harmful insects. Identifying the body parts of a butterfly will be familiar to children who have studied other insects: they are comprised of a thorax, abdomen, head, antennae, proboscis, compound eye, six legs, and forewings and hindwings.
There are many hands-on options to help children discover butterflies, such as trips to special butterfly gardens or kits to do at home. Pairing hands-on activities with books about butterflies is a natural fit. The below selections are recently published fiction and nonfiction titles about butterflies. Search the CLCD database for more information on these magical creatures.
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Contributor: Emily Griffin
Bird, Butterfly, Eel
Prosek employs an unusual perspective as he follows with words and paintbrush the migratory journey of a bird, butterfly, and eel. Their story begins in an Eastern coastal pond where the Monarch butterfly lives in a nearby meadow, the eel deep within the pond, and the barn swallow in the rafters safe from the barn cats. The cycle begins in summer and readers follow each through the seasons to journey's end. For the butterfly it is Central Mexico, for the eel it is deep in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, and bird spends his winter at the tip of Argentina. In spring each will travel back home and the cycle will begin again. Handsome full-page watercolors bring to life the flora and fauna of the habitat of these creatures. Horizontal panels are often used so that readers can view, simultaneously, the progress of each journey and life cycle. Appended is further information and facts about the bird, butterfly, and eel. A fascinating and informative introduction to animal migration, this is a worthy addition to any classroom or library. 2009, Simon and Schuster, $19.99. Ages 5 to 9. Reviewer: Beverley Fahey (Children's Literature).
A butterfly lays eggs on leaves and begins the multi-stage life cycle of reproduction: egg, caterpillar, pupa, butterfly. This vivid introductory science picture book for emerging readers, part of the "Looking at Life Cycles" series, uses short, simple sentences, bolded vocabulary words, and full-color photographs to show, in words and pictures, the consecutive stages of the life of a butterfly. Large type and a progressive life cycle diagram that runs across the bottom of each page make this non-fiction book inviting to students who are more familiar with fictional picture book formats, while the Table of Contents, glossary, extra page of butterfly facts, index, and supplemental resources make it a great introduction to informative texts. A commonly-studied subject, this book would serve as an excellent counterpoint to Eric Carle's classic The Very Hungry Caterpillar. Well-designed, highly engaging, and packed with relevant educational information, this book is an appealing addition to early childhood and primary classrooms, as well as school and public libraries. 2009, Smart Apple Media/Black Rabbit Books, $24.25. Ages 4 to 8. Reviewer: Keri Collins Lewis (Children's Literature).
Illustrated by Mark Jones
The first day of spring has arrived, and the insects are ready to greet the changing of the seasons. Beetles, crickets, ants, wasps, and spiders emerge from their winter homes to begin preparations for a special party to celebrate the day. While they work, the caterpillars are busying munching on leaves, to the dismay of a little ant. He learns, however, that the caterpillars were preparing for their part in the celebration. Their chrysalises serve as decorations for the party, and as the day progresses, the butterflies emerge and join the other insects in their spring dance. With Butterfly Birthday, Ziefert completes her collection of books on the changing of the seasons. She captures several science concepts, including metamorphosis and the equinoxes, through this captivating story. Mark Jones has crafted beautiful images of the variety and colors found in butterflies and in other insects through his illustrations. This selection would be an excellent book to initiate an elementary class study of spring, butterflies, or insects. 2010, Blue Apple Books, $16.99. Ages 4 to 8. Reviewer: Amanda Ledbetter (Children's Literature).
Butterflies and Mothers
Nic Bishop is focusing his amazing lens not just on butterflies and moths, but on their tiniest, most obscure parts: the furry underside of a luna moth, a monarch caterpillar eating its own shell (magnified forty-five times), and the spiny red and blue bumps on a cecropia moth caterpillar. Bishop's writing shows that he is as intrigued by these creatures as he expects his young audience to be: "One neat thing caterpillars do is spin silk from glands near their mouths." A four-page fold out spread in the middle of the book shows a butterfly in flight: "Every time the butterfly's wings flap, they create little swirls of air that push and tug it along." Bishop's newest production is ideal for classroom, library, or home. It enables youngsters to add fascinating details to a science report or just browse through a truly awesome collection of photographs. We see the boyishly eager Bishop at the end, butterfly net in hand, describing both the patience he needs and the adventures he loves as a nature photographer. The book includes a simple index and glossary. 2009, Scholastic, $17.99. Ages 6 to 12. Reviewer: Karen Leggett (Children's Literature).
Caterpillars to Butterflies
In this easy nonfiction book, young readers who have a love for nature will learn all about caterpillars becoming butterflies. Vibrant full-color photographs will captivate readers on each page. The text is short and printed in a font size that is larger than most typical nonfiction. This will allow even the youngest readers who have an attention span long enough to sit still for the length of a longer picture book to be able to enjoy learning about these fascinating insects. More difficult words are bolded (for example: prolegs, antennae, and chrysalis) throughout the text so that readers can pay special attention to them. However, these bolded words are not explained in a glossary at the end of the text. Instead they are defined within the text--seeing how the very young audience that the book is geared toward would not have the patience to continually look at the end of the book to learn what the words mean. One very nice feature is that in the "Words to Know and Index" page at the end of the book, many words have a color picture to help readers who aren't good at reading isentify the pages where they can find more information (for example, there is a picture of a moth and then it lists page numbers where you can read about moths). This is a wonderful addition to the "It's Fun to Learn About Baby Animals" series. 2009, Crabtree Publishing Company, $6.95. Ages 3 to 8. Reviewer: Joella Peterson (Children's Literature).
Dinosaurs Roar, Butterflies Soar!
You will find out what author Bob Barner and scientists believe happened to dinosaurs and why butterflies are still around in the pages of this book. Opinions vary as to what happened millions of years ago, but this book deserves attention because it is both interesting and unique. When you smell a flower, a dinosaur may have done the same thing millions of years ago. Butterflies have been around millions of years, although dinosaurs were here first. Millions of years ago, young dinosaurs had feathers. You will never believe how large birds were that flew through the sky or how big their eggs were. Dinosaurs were the first animals on the planet. They were the first farmers--not by design, but by lifestyle. You will learn when butterflies and other insects started inhabiting the planet. The world was beautiful, and insects made it possible for large animals to have enough to eat. Animals change or die out. Several theories for why dinosaurs became extinct are explained. The planet continued to support smaller animals and plant life. Much can be learned from reading this attractive, unpaged book. The author also illustrated this book, with colorful collages. Chronicle Books published three other books by Bob Barner. 2009, Chronicle Books, $16.99. Ages 8 to 12. Reviewer: Jennie DeGenaro (Children's Literature).
Eggs, Legs, Wings: A Butterfly Life Cycle
Using the presentation of a graphic novel, this book shares the life cycle of a butterfly with young readers. The author and illustrator work together to describe the cycle--from the adult that lays eggs, to a larva facing dangers, to the transformation in the chrysalis, and finally to a new adult. The strength of this book lies in the illustrator's ability to focus on small details. In one panel, illustrator Simon Smith focuses on the body parts of a butterfly, and in another he zooms in on the small egg that is the size of the head of a pin. True to the graphic novel format, several young characters interact with the butterfly as they remark on the visual detail. "I can see wings!" says one character as she looks at the chrysalis. Alongside the dialog, scientific facts are presented in boxes. Because of the large number of scientific terms, this well-presented visual guide might be best used for guided reading or some other type of teacher-led reading activity. Grades 1-2. 2011, Capstone Press, 24p, $22.65. Ages 6 to 8. Reviewer: David Tumbarello (National Science Teachers Association (NSTA)).
Face to Face with Butterflies
Darlyne A. Murawski
The author, an insect expert, leads young readers inside the fascinating world of butterflies. She follows their magical transformation from the caterpillar stage to their maturation into beautiful butterflies. Guidelines explain how to catch and handle butterflies. Illustrative maps show their migration from north to south and then back north again. Boldface words indicate illustrations throughout the book. A glossary defines scientific terms. The Find Out More section directs the reader to relevant books, articles, and Web sites for more information about the species. An index provides easy navigation through the text. The author's Research and Photographic Notes section explains how she did her research and the manner in which she took the photographs. These photographs and other artistic illustrations show the exquisite beauty of butterflies. This book is part of an extensive "National Geographic Face to Face" series that describe other animals as they also are observed in their natural habitats. 2010, National Geographic Society, $16.95. Ages 7 to 11. Reviewer: Annie Laura Smith (Children's Literature).
Fancy Nancy: Explorer Extraordinaire!
Illustrated by Robin Preiss Glasser
Fancy Nancy and best friend Bree have formed an exclusive (and glamorous) nature club and set out to learn about the fascinating world of birds, insects, butterflies and leaves. Leaving her lace gloves behind Fancy Nancy provides accurate and essential scientific information (that is fancy for correct) for the youngest nature lover. She explains the difference between insects and spiders, describes the life cycle of the fragile (fancy for they hurt easily) butterfly, examines wild flowers with some very exotic and fancy names, and includes information about bird plumage (fancy for feathers). There are recipes for a Pinecone Bird Feeder and extra fancy Lemonade. For added fun, Nancy throws in a few nature jokes such as "What do you call a 100 year-old ant?" Why an antique (fancy for very old) of course! In addition to Glasser's familiar drawings of the Divine Miss Nancy there are color photos of the insects, birds, and butterflies the girls' research. Fancy Nancy still has plenty of appeal and her foray into the world of science proves there are still lots of new fancy words and facts to learn. 2009, HarperCollins, $12.99. Ages 5 to 7. Reviewer: Beverley Fahey (Children's Literature).
Flight of the Butterflies
Illustrated by Bob Kayganich
The story of the migration of the monarch butterflies is fascinating and more so because it was not really understood until 1975 when US scientists put tiny stickers on some monarchs. They showed up several weeks later in Mexico. The story of the monarch life cycle and its incredible migration of 2,000 miles to Mexico is explained in easy to read text accompanied by full color photographs and illustrations. The people in Mexico hold festivals to celebrate the arrival of these butterflies where thousands of them fill the skies and cover the trees. On cool days the monarchs stay in a light sleep and on warmer days they may flit about in search of water. They are not without threats from weather that can get too cold, rodents and of course humans who are encroaching on their resting place. There is an excellent spread that details the cycle from egg to caterpillar to chrysalis and then a beautiful orange, yellow and black butterfly. There is an illustration showing the migratory path and the generations of butterflies that live and die on this amazing journey back to the US. How they know where to go and what gives them the directional information still remains a mystery. An excellent selection in the "All Aboard Reading" series Station Stop, level 2. The opening page provides more information about the series. 2010, Grosset & Dunlap/Penguin, Ages 6 to 8, $3.99. Reviewer: Marilyn Courtot (Children's Literature).
From Caterpillar to Butterfly: Following the Life Cycle
Illustrated by Jeff Yesh
The author and illustrator team for this book, part of the series titled "Amazing Science: Life Cycles," have put together a most valuable volume for teaching beginning science and for children's reports. The text and digital pictures are clear and concise. They present the four stages in the life of monarch butterflies. These are: egg; larva; pupa; and adult butterfly. Every other page contains sidebars that provide extra details such as the meaning of metamorphosis; how a pupa turns into liquid form and the location of the proboscis as well as how it is used. Helpful supplementary information is found at the end of the book. Included are: a glossary; a life cycle chart; a list called "Fun Facts;" a bibliography; and websites available through FactHound. The publisher's staff has screened the websites. Purchase of this volume is recommended, as it will be a valuable tool in the primary curriculum. 2009, Picture Window Books, $25.26. Ages 6 to 9. Reviewer: Sylvia Firth (Children's Literature).
Life Cycle of a Butterfly
This book brought back wonderful memories of watching butterflies in the park as a child. It's filled with good science information about a topic young children will love. My favorite section focused on the Monarch butterfly's migration from North America to the mountains of Mexico--as far as 200 miles a day. The author covers facts including names, geographic range, and life cycles. Each chapter presents vocabulary words as well as content related to each word. Children can easily associate words with pictures, thus leading to greater comprehension of the information. The book is filled with many examples of this association, which I found to be age-appropriate and helpful. In addition to its engaging narrative and visual style, the book is well organized and easy to follow. The author uses a consistent format, which includes boldfaced vocabulary words and a timeline at the bottom of each page. Children can use this timeline to connect the narrative to the life cycle stage. The author also provides a helpful review section, a fact file, a glossary, a reading list, and an index. This book would make a wonderful additional to any school library. Teachers can use it to supplement lessons, and children will find it a valuable resource for background information. The Heinemann First Library series includes books on other animals and plants for children to enjoy. I highly recommend them. Grades 1-3. 2009, Heinemann Library, 32p, $25.36. Reviewer: Jose Rios (National Science Teachers Association (NSTA)).
Painted Lady Butterflies
Martha E.H. Rustad
Read and follow the metamorphosis of the painted lady butterfly in this informational text that has full-page, color photographs throughout the book. The different stages, egg, larva, pupa, and adult are concisely described in the chapters. The photographs support the text; however, readers may need assistance with the content vocabulary. Informational text features include table of contents, labels, glossary, index, and additional resources; some children may need guidance or an introduction to understand the purpose and use of these features. This book makes for a nice addition to a unit of study or when observing the live metamorphic process of the painted lady butterfly. To read about other life cycles, explore the other texts in the "Watch It Grow" series of which this book is a part. The texts in the series follow a similar format and presentation for the pillbug, silkworm moth, milkweed bug, and mealworm. Opportunities for discussion may include comparing and contrasting the different life cycles. 2009, Capstone Press, $17.32. Ages 4 to 7. Reviewer: Carrie Hane Hung (Children's Literature).
The Pebble First Guide to Butterflies
The fascination with the world around them is part of the joy of reading with young children. This innovative nonfiction picture book series is actually a field guide. As each page is turned the natural world of butterflies and their caterpillar forms immediately come to life. From the detailed photo of the American snout and the brilliant painted lady to the uniquely different caterpillars, each page is a new adventure in life science. Thirteen butterflies are illustrated and described in a very simple field guide format with several simply written facts and a range map that highlights where each is located. This is a perfect book for reference in an early childhood classroom or for use at home for making discoveries in one's own backyard. It is a user friendly research book with the characteristics of an emergent reader--carefully controlled vocabulary, short sentence structure, photo-text matching, index and glossary along with additional internet and library resources. All this works together to make this a book that has a high interest level when put into the hands of budding entomologists. Butterflies is one book in the series of first guides. Other books in the series include Penguins, Snakes, and Songbirds. 2009, Capstone Press, $18.65. Ages 4 to 8. Reviewer: Kathy Leggett (Children's Literature).
Summer Birds: The Butterflies of Maria Merian
Illustrated by Julie Paschkis
"Summer birds" was a medieval term used for butterflies. This inspiring narrative is written in the voice of Maria Merian, who was thirteen and living in mid-seventeenth-century Germany when she determined that, counter to common belief, butterflies did not appear magically from the mud but changed from one form to another before emerging from cocoons. Margarita Engle's brief text manages to not only convey a wealth of factual information about butterflies but also a sense of the superstitions Maria challenged with her careful observations (insects were believed to be evil), as well as her soaring spirit and determination. Julie Paschkis's lovely illustrations are full of small moments of nature's wonders that Maria found so fascinating. A historical note provides additional information about the life of Maria Merian, who grew up to become famous as a scientist, artist, and explorer. CCBC Category: Historical People, Places, and Events. 2010, Henry Holt, 32 pages, $16.99. Ages 5-8. Reviewer: CCBC (Cooperative Children's Book Center Choices, 2011).
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