Fletcher and the Caterpillar: Julia Rawlinson and Tiphanie Beeke
This is an uplifting picture book and part of a seasonal series about an inquisitive fox called Fletcher, suitable for very young children. In this story that can be enjoyed as a standalone, Fletcher meets a preoccupied, stripy caterpillar and observes its journey through life, until it turns into the most glorious, vibrant butterfly. I loved the golden shimmer on the final page! This is an ideal book for children to learn about life-cycles and seasons, as they enjoy their own discoveries in the world around them. Its beauty lies in its apparent simplicity. Through his actions and attitude, Fletcher shows young children how to formulate questions and nurture nature, showing respect for non-human life.
I was delighted to spot other layers of meaning in this familiar story, and educators might consider teasing out discussions on loss, change, responsibility and friendship. Fletcher learns that we can and should forge connections with those who may be different to us. Also, sometimes, we must accept others’ decisions, even if they are not entirely to our liking. Fletcher has to let the caterpillar do ‘what caterpillars like to do’, and even ends up protecting it with his paw, which I thought was a lovely touch by illustrator Tiphanie Beeke. How important it is for young children to learn such things through story!
After sharing this book, I can see educators leading children outside to explore nature and make a trail of some of the story’s key features: twisting branches, buds, forest ferns, tree trunks, and maybe caterpillars and butterflies too! The language in this book is assured and lyrical ‘…trees were stretching in the sun’, ‘The rich earth turned to dust and the leaves hung heavy’ and ‘petals were unfurling’. In my view, such examples would inspire some wonderful drama and art.
It is evident that there is close collaboration between author and illustrator here. For example, one spread shows a beautiful depiction of dusk, painted in bruised purples and blues. This complements Julia Rawlinson’s words about Fletcher’s uncertainty and anxiety so well. When Fletcher accepts his new butterfly friend, we are treated to a ‘golden wood’, full of clarity and sunshine. Tiphanie Beeke has compared her illustrations to ‘the swish of curtains’ and this is accurate.
When I first saw the book, I was concerned that I might find inside a story made too familiar by other writers. I did not. Although there are strong echoes of Eric Carle’s classic, I feel that those children who know ‘The Very Hungry Caterpillar’ will enjoy being ‘in on the secret’ as they hear the words and see the chrysalis appear. And anyway, ‘Fletcher and the Caterpillar’ takes readers on a different pathway, allowing children to explore questions of identity, difference and the need to let everything be. This story is a warm celebration of outdoor learning for health and wellbeing. It provides a forum for rich discussion, provided that there is plenty of room for book talk and exploration of its fundamental themes.
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