Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Inside A Package

It's still somewhat of a miracle to me, not having grown up with computers and the Internet, how quickly information spreads and expands in content on almost any topic imaginable.  Toward the beginning of this month author Kate Messner (Over and Under the Snow Capture the Flag, Wake Up Missing) posted the following tweet on Twitter.

This led me to her blog post, Happy 2014!, discussing, among other things, the title of a new book by one of her critique partners.  On a wind-howling, frigid-temperature, snowy afternoon  a few days ago, it was delivered to my doorstep.

Whether you see them flitting past in your very own backyard, when out trekking through the countryside or walking through a place of wonder like The Butterflies in the Garden at the 4-H Children's Gardens at Michigan State University, your viewpoint will be positively changed after reading this book.  Author Loree Griffin Burns and photographer Ellen Harasimowicz collaborate again in their new release, Handle With Care:  An Unusual Butterfly Journey (Millbrook Press).  Thousands of miles away from the United States, a unique farm exists.

A mysterious package has arrived at the museum.  It's shiny and has traveled a long, long way.  

This package carries precious cargo from Costa Rica.  When opened there are rows of butterfly pupa placed in foam.  If you are unaware of the term pupa, it is defined succinctly as being a stage of insect life.

As a reader you might at this point be wondering why a box of pupa have been shipped from Central America to Boston, Massachusetts.  We begin...at the beginning.  Eggs are being laid by a mother butterfly.

The difference between this butterfly, and others you and I may have seen, is it lives inside a screened greenhouse.  On this particular farm, El Bosque Nuevo, three structures serve as residences for the butterflies.  When the eggs hatch, caterpillars eat, molt and grow over and over until they are ready to become pupae.

Farmers work tirelessly to make sure the caterpillars have plenty of leaves to eat as well as making crushed fruit and sugar water available for the adult butterflies.  Endless hours are spent each day making sure no enemies of these herds...yes, herds...of larvae enter the enclosures.  Watching and waiting, the farmers move elder caterpillars to the final home, the puparium.

Here they will hang until their departure.  Some go back into the forest, others to the screened greenhouses and many arrive in places far away wrapped carefully in layers for their journey.   How fortunate for all of us there are people, farmers, tending these gardens in order to preserve their land and to bring beauty to those who wish to see.

As I gaze out upon a snowy landscape, snug inside my home, it's a joy to be able to read about something I never knew existed due to the efforts of author, Loree Griffin Burns.  In sentences the youngest of readers can understand, she takes us on a circular tour from museum to forest and back to the museum.  Each portion of the journey, interesting details about the insect stages and the farmers who care for them, is expressed in a conversational manner.  It's as if we are there with her at El Bosque Nuevo.  Here is a sample passage.

This is a butterfly pupa.  Some people call it
a chrysalis.  Really, though, it's an ingenious
package.  Inside its sturdy skin, a butterfly
larva---you might call it a caterpillar---is
quietly changing into an adult.

The matching jacket and cover is only a welcoming preface to what can only be described as a stunning photographic display within the pages of this title.  Opening and closing endpapers feature panels of various grouped pupae and breathtaking adult butterflies.  Opposite the title page is a colorful collage composition of insect, handbook and flower.  Stretching from right to left, leaving space for the dedication and publication panel, pupae hanging in rows are pictured.

Ellen Harasimowicz has masterfully documented the narrative with her visuals.  Using accent colors of celery green to frame pictures and purple to feature captions, readers are treated to a seamless layout and design.  Photographs range in size and perspective; a close-up of an adult laying her eggs, a landscape view of the farm, farmers working among the leaves inside the greenhouse or the step-by-step opening of a single pupa.

One of the most fascinating photographs is of the puparium.  Seeing those white screened cabinets housing thousands of caterpillars, is a marvel.  A farmer is placing fresh leaves inside one of the homes for those larvae still eating.

Handle with Care:  An Unusual Butterfly Journey written by Loree Griffin Burns with photographs by Ellen Harasimowicz is a captivating read about a topic of which many students will be unaware.  After reading this book, I guarantee their appreciation for their world and those caretakers in it will increase.  The closing pages of the title include Insects and their Life Cycles, Insect Words, a Glossary, Further Reading, a Selected Bibliography, an Index and an Author's Note.  

Please follow the links embedded in the author's and photographer's names to access their websites.  Here is a link to the publisher's website allowing you to view more pages from the book.  I think you might be interested in this tweet which I received from author, Loree Griffin Burns.

I am excited to be participating in Alyson Beecher's 2014 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge hosted at her blog Kid Lit Frenzy.  Make sure you stop over there to see all the other nonfiction picture books showcased by other bloggers.


  1. I love the looks of the butterfly book. Butterflies are so beautiful. I am giong to add this book to my must read list. Thanks for sharing.

    My nonfiction picture book post for the week.

    1. Some of the very best nonfiction can be found in children's picture books. This title is exceptionally well done, Mary. You won't be disappointed. And you are welcome.

  2. Whoa! Even the cover looks delightful! I'm going to add this to my list and make sure my librarian knows about it. Thanks!

    1. I never even knew there were butterfly farms until I read this book. It's completely fascinating. I know Chris is going to like it. You're welcome, Maria.

  3. I really enjoyed this book. Such a different way of looking at butterflies.

    1. Oh, I agree Gigi. I will never go to a butterfly house again without thinking about this book. I so admire the people working to care for these lovely creatures.

  4. This is on my TBR list! It looks so interesting and I really want to get a look at the end papers!

    1. I think your little guys would really like this Carrie. I am wondering if they ever send these to schools. I think the endpapers are gorgeous.

  5. Our 1st graders do a unit on butterflies and I was thinking of using this book with them. Do you think it's appropriate for 1st graders? Even if I have to shorten it, maybe at least the photographs will be helpful?

    1. I think it would be fine with first grade students Michele. You could pair it with the Lois Ehlert's Waiting for Wings and Bill Martin Jr.'s Ten Little Caterpillars. Have fun!