Sunday, May 4, 2008

The Butterfly

"The Butterfly"

Written and illustrated by Patricia Polacco
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Age Range: 4 to 8


The story takes place in France and begins with Monique peering out her window looking at her village being occupied by Nazi troops. During the night, she wakes up to find this little ghost at the end of her bed. When Moniques attempts to talk to this little ghost, the little ghost just runs away. The next morning Monique can’t wait to tell her mom what she witnessed. However, her mom who rarely gets upset seems almost angry at this remark and assures Monique that it was only a dream. When Monique arrives at school, she tells her best friend Denise about the ghost. On the way home that day, they stop off the store of Monsier Mark’s candy shop. Even though most of the jars that used to be filled with candy are now empty due to the war, Monsieur Marks hands them candy he saved for them. As they walk outside the store, the two girls hear the clicking boots of the soldiers and witness Monsier Mark get taken by the Nazi soldiers. The girls run to Monique’s house and begin to sob as they ask why the soldiers are taking such a good man as Monsier Mark. Although they knew these things happened before, the girls were distraught that it happened to Monsier Mark. Her mother tells them that the Nazis hate the Jews, even though it’s pointless and cruel. Many nights pass until Monique seees the little ghost again by her bed. This time they talk and Monique finds out that Sevrine and her family have been hiding in her basement. One day, Monique is out in the garden when she spots a beautiful butterfly. While she’s admiring the beautiful garden and butterfly, some soldiers come over and crush the butterfly right in front of her. Scared, Monique runs to her mom and asks if this is what they are planning to do to Monsier Marks. This is when Monique begins to understand the sadness and fear in Sevrine’s eyes. From that day on, Sevrine comes out of hiding every night to play with Monique. Monique collects things from the outside world for Sevrine to feel and touch. One night, as they are setting free a butterfly out the window, a neighbor spots them. They both run to Monique’s mom and let her know what has happened. That same night Sevrine and her family depart so they are not discovered hiding. Weeks pass and Monique hopes that Sevrine and her family are safe. Finally one day she gets a sign from Monique. A bunch of monarch butterflies land in her garden and Monique just knows that Sevrine sent them and that the are safe now.


Drawing from her own's family history, Patricia Polacco delivers a personal and touching story. Although the book is listed for children between 4 - 8 years of age, this is a book that older children and adults will appreciate. The story is filled with lots of themes which include the beauty of friendship, being different, being compassionate, the use of symbolism, discrimination, and courageness. The illustrations of the book are beautiful and adequately depict the mood of each event as the story unfolds. This book is rich in so many themes that it's an excellent book to introduce many different themes in our society but also a way to introduce children to WWII and the French occupation.

1 comment:

  1. Activities:
    Social Studies: History-WWII and the Holocaust.
How is WWII and the Holocaust portrayed in the book? Discuss the following incidents with your student.
*Monique's mother wasn't sure how much longer she would be able to go to school
*Monsieur Marks' candy shop jars were mostly empty (sugar was scarce)
*People lived in fear of the Nazis-they had quiet conversations in their homes, they knew they were taking a risk by hiding Jews
*People had to watch friends and loved ones being mistreated (as the girls watched Monsieur Marks' be beaten by the Nazis)
*The Nazis hated the Jews (even French Jews)
*Jews had to leave their homes and possessions behind. Many of them hid all over France. 

    Language Arts: Symbolism—the butterfly (life)
What symbols are your students aware of? What does a wedding ring symbolize? A cross? A Star of David? 
A symbol is something that stands for itself but also stands for something larger than itself. A writer often uses a concrete object to express an abstract idea, quality, or belief. Discuss concrete (tree, bird, house) and abstract (love, hope, peace). Ask your student what he thinks the butterfly symbolizes in the story. The first butterfly (that the Nazi squeezes in his fist) can symbolize Monsieur Marks and how his beautiful life was (probably) violently taken- or how he was taken to be cruelly mistreated by the Nazis to a concentration camp.

The butterfly the girls share in Monique's bedroom can symbolize hope and the longing for freedom.
The butterflies at the end of the book prove to be symbolic of Sevrine's freedom and life. The beautiful life of Sevrine flew to safety and was free. 

Let your student create/draw a symbol for their family. Why?
    Science: Butterfly Life Cycle Activity
    This is just a fun activity to introduce students to the phenomenon of butterflies!
    Student will need:
    paper plate or piece of construction paper, divided into four sections
    4 green leaves (use real or cut out of construction paper)
    a few grains of rice, for the eggs
    one rotini pasta shape for the caterpillar (larva stage)
    one shell pasta shape for the chrysalis (pupa stage)
yarn or string
    one bowtie pasta for the butterfly (adult) 
    Tell your student to glue one green leaf in each of the four sections. For the first section, the student needs to glue a few grains of rice on the leaf. In the second section, the student needs to glue one rotini pasta on the leaf. In the third section, the student needs to glue one shell pasta hanging down from the leaf (you can glue a piece of yarn from the leaf to the shell to represent the hanging). In the fourth section, the student needs to glue one bowtie pasta on the leaf. The pasta may all be colored with markers, as the student wishes. Each section needs to be labeled with the correct stage of the butterfly’s life cycle.