As a reporter many years ago, I used to write about the annual migration of the monarch butterfly from Canada over Lake Erie around mid-September to mid-October. They fly 2,000 to 3,000 miles to an overwintering area in Mexico’s Sierra Madre. I was fortunate to visit a family in Lake County who observed the massive one-day migration of thousands of monarch butterflies to their northeastern farm. The butterflies landed on the trees of their farm the same day each year for over 40 years. The butterflies clustered so closely together that they looked like Christmas tree ornaments as they clung for one night to the leaves, branches and to each other. It was a spectacular sight! So in honor of these beautiful creatures of nature, I share with you Bruce Coville’s picture book for children.
The Prince of Butterflies, is written by Bruce Coville and illustrated by John Clapp for kids of all ages. It is a very beautiful story complimented by its wistful and colorful illustrations. I happily discovered Coville’s work of fiction during the annual Society of Children’s Books Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) conference in August. Because of my interest in the monarch migration, I knew his book belonged to me.
One morning, 11-year-old John Farrington, walked out his front door to a great surprise. Monarch butterflies covered the side of his home like a carpet, clusters decorated the porch railing, lawn chairs, the family car and his yard. It was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen. Afraid of scaring the butterflies, he walked into the yard and quietly sat on the ground. Slowly, butterflies landed upon his foot, his arm and his shoulder. John sensed something unusual happening. Suddenly he heard the fluttering voices of thousands of butterflies crying out “help.” Closing his eyes he wondered “how and why?” As the butterflies came to him, he saw the image of a meadow. They whispered “We’ve lost the path home.”
John realized that the meadows that the butterflies used to feed and rest upon, were gone. In the place of the green fields was a new shopping mall. He realized the butterflies needed a new resting place. He remembered a meadow that had been untouched by bulldozers. The butterflies want to be taken there. Befuddled, John wonders”how?” And, in that instant something miraculous happened to John. He is transformed into a butterfly and his life is altered for ever.
Coville does an outstanding job of combining fiction with ecology. I believe a major reason I like his book so much, is that I have often wondered about the changing habitat and how it may impact the monarch migration. I’ve wondered if the farm I visited years ago is still there with its abundant fields and trees to welcome these weary travelers. There is about a 60-mile stretch a long Lake Erie where they rest after their journey over the lake. In northeast Ohio, the butterflies can be observed at Mentor Marsh State Nature Preserve in Mentor.