Saturday, July 9, 2011

Nonfiction Monday: A Butterfly is Patient

A Butterfly is Patient
By Dianna Hutts Aston; illustrated by Sylvia Long
32 pages, for ages 4 -10
Chronicle Books, 2011

I loved An Egg is Quiet and A Seed is Sleepy. So when I learned that Dianna Aston and Sylvia Long were teaming up for a butterfly project, I knew I had to get my hands on this book! The art is awesome, the writing wonderful – A Butterfly is Patient is definitely a book that will draw children back for second and fifth looks.

The front spread shows a diversity of caterpillars: some smooth and green, some black with red spikes, some long-horned, others fat with eyespots, and some with thin cactus-like spines. At the end of the book the last spread features the adult butterflies: small blues, bright oranges, spotted and dotted and eye-spotted butterflies and even some with zebra stripes.

And the pages in between? That’s where you learn about a butterfly’s life. “It begins as an egg beneath an umbrella of leaves…” writes Aston. In lyrical prose she accurately details the life cycle from caterpillar through metamorphosis to adult.

She also shows how butterflies help flowers by carrying pollen from one flower to another, and how butterflies protect themselves using camouflage (wings that resemble dried leaves) or boasting bright colors that warn predators it tastes yucky.

A couple weeks ago I interviewed both the author and the illustrator.

Dianna Aston, who wrote the book, said that butterflies hold special symbolism for her – especially yellow butterflies that help her remember her father. On the fifth anniversary of his death, Aston was visiting a remote village in Mexico. “Suddenly, a blizzard of yellow butterflies rose and swirled around me,” she said.  

Aston does a lot of research for her books: reading articles, watching butterflies and putting some beneath a microscope to get a closer look. She learns new things every time she writes. While working on A Butterfly is Patient she discovered butterfly “puddle clubs”. One day at a pond she saw “butterflies of every size and color feasting on the minerals in the mud,” she said. “They let me hold them and walk around with them … I felt as if they trusted me.”

Artists do research too. Sylvia Long says she’s lucky because one of her friends builds temporary enclosures around the butterfly pupae (chrysalides) that she finds in her garden – and Long got to observe them up close. Once the butterflies emerge, she removes the enclosures so they can fly free.

The paintings, Long says, are watercolors and she paints them the size they’ll be in the book. Butterflies may be patient – but they don’t sit still long enough for a painter to capture them on paper. So Long used photos to help her illustrate the book.

“Each illustration goes through so many stages,” she explains. She begins with research, looking for imagery to complement the text. “Then I do rough sketches and often many revisions before finally doing an approved, detailed pencil or ink drawing prior to painting with watercolors.” Long, a full-time illustrator, says such detailed nonfiction books take about a year to complete. 

The best part about researching A Butterfly is Patient, says Long, was spending weeks searching out photos of the most intriguing and gorgeous butterflies. She learned a lot about metamorphosis – and monarch migration, too.

“An adult Monarch makes the whole 3,000 mile trip [to Mexico] and then stays for the winter,” Long said. “That’s incredible enough, but the return trip along the same route is made by four or five successive generations of Monarchs!  How is the route information transferred to the next generation? An intriguing mystery, don’t you think?”

This post is part of the Nonfiction Monday Round-Up hosted this week by proseandkahn; review copy provided by the publisher.

1 comment:

  1. How fun to hear some of the behind the scenes of this beautiful book.