Review of Saving the Butterfly

Saving the Butterfly Saving the Butterfly
by Helen Cooper; illus. by Gill Smith
Primary, Intermediate    Candlewick Studio    32 pp.    g
6/22    978-1-5362-2055-1    $17.99

This affecting and emotional picture book about displacement, tragedy, grief, and hope begins with a dramatic rescue, as two young children arrive by boat to a foreign shore: “There were two of them left in the boat…Brother and sister, lost in the dark sea. They could have died. The bigger one thought they wouldn’t survive.” The children are housed in what appears to be a refugee camp and their physical needs met; soon, the younger brother makes friends playing outside, and he “hardly ever thought about the time before.” The older sister, though, stays inside and apart from others, consumed by her memories and trauma (unspecified) and the responsibility of bearing witness to the past. “She felt she shouldn’t forget.” Attempting to bring some cheer into their “broken home,” the boy catches a butterfly and presents it to his sister. She tries to release it, but it won’t depart; eventually, in order to guide the creature, she steps out onto the porch. As the butterfly flies off, the girl, now experiencing the beauty in the light and warmth that surround her, tentatively rejoins the world. Gorgeously evocative and textured mixed-media illustrations are predominantly gray at the beginning and incorporate more and more bright colors as the children respond positively to their environment. Although the shadows are not gone, the girl’s self-isolation and profound loneliness have begun to dissipate, following those first steps she’s taken toward healing.

From the May/June 2022 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Elissa Gershowitz

Elissa Gershowitz is acting editor in chief / executive editor of The Horn Book, Inc. She holds an MA from the Center for the Study of Children's Literature at Simmons University and a BA from Oberlin College.

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