It’s no secret; I am a huge fan of Nicola Davies’ writing. When I read the text of her stories, I can hear her voice ‘dipping and dancing’ just like the butterflies in her latest book The Butterfly Bouquet, beautifully illustrated by Hannah Peck.
The little girl in this story is convalescing in the middle of winter. She’s feeling glum because there’s no colour in the garden. Her Dad’s inspired solution is to take her to a tropical butterfly house which ‘shimmered with bright colours – swirls and spots and shapes.’ She notices the way the butterflies flit from one flower to the next and that they are almost invisible when resting on leaves or the tree bark.
The narrative is written as a conversation between the child and the adult. He points out the tricks the butterflies use to scare predators so that the facts are seamlessly interwoven in the exchange between father and daughter. The reader absorbs them as part of the story rather than as information didactically delivered. This playfulness is typical of the way many parents talk to their children, engaging them in the world around.
”Its feet are tasting you,’ Dad said, ‘to see if you’re good to eat or if you’re the sort of leaf where it could lay its eggs.”
It’s skillfully executed.
Hannah Peck’s illustrations are an integral part of the storytelling. The expressive characterisation of the girl and her Dad make them more than a foil for an information book about butterflies. There are some interesting perspectives; an overhead view shows the butterflies dancing overhead.
The attention to detail means that the butterflies can be identified from the glorious endpapers. Many young readers will enjoy returning to the story to name their favourites using the labelled pictures. In this picture, the butterflies favourite flowers are pictures as a reminder that we can encourage them to our gardens with the right planting.
The metamorphosis from egg to butterfly is pictured accurately through each of the stages, and the text provides a detailed explanation.
‘I didn’t see how something like a caterpillar could grow wings and fly. But Dad explained that inside the chrysalis, the caterpillar’ body breaks into tiny pieces and then re-form.’
The end matter provides additional information which can be shared by an adult or read by an older child. In this section, the symbiotic relationship between butterflies and flowers is clearly explained, including some fascinating detail about the different ways in which bees and butterflies collect pollen. Next time you take the children into the garden or school wildflower patch, observe closely. You will see the bees studiously visiting all the flowers in a patch while the butterflies darts from one plant to another ranging over greater distances – thus the expression ‘butterfly mind’ sampling different delights and moving on. But rather than being frivolous behaviour, the cross-pollination serves a vital ecological role.
One minor point, I found the anti-clockwise orientation of the lifecycle diagram a bit strange. It’s just conditioning from seeing the more conventional clockwise layout. Still, some children may need this clarifying if they are used to seeing lifecycles presented in a clockwise circle, particularly as the directional arrows are not very prominent.
My Butterfly Bouquet is a lovely choice for the infant classroom or library, or indeed for sharing at home. Thank you to Nicola, Hannah and the design team at Wren and Rook for lavishing care on this introduction to the world of butterflies. I have been inspired to find my faded cloth-covered copy of The Observer Book of Butterflies. I used to take it everywhere in the summer holidays. I hope the book encourages a new generation of butterfly enthusiasts to do the same.
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