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The Butterfly

Ever since the Nazis marched into Monique?s small French village, terrorizing it, nothing surprises her, until the night Monique encounters ?the little ghost? sitting at the end of her bed. She turns out to be a girl named Sevrine, who has been hiding from the Nazis in Monique?s basement. Playing after dark, the two become friends, until, in a terrifying moment, they are discovered, sending both of their families into a nighttime flight.

Lying in bed one moonlit night, Monique awakens to see what she thinks is a little ghost sitting at the foot of her bed, petting her cat. In the time that her French village has been occupied by Nazi troops, Monique has come to believe that nothing can surprise her anymore. But when she discovers that the little ghost is in fact a Jewish girl named Sevrine, who is living in a hidden room in Monique’s own basement, she is very surprised indeed! The two become secret friends, whispering and giggling late at night after their families have gone to bed. An unfortunate and alarming moment of discovery by a neighbor forces the girls to reveal their friendship to Monique’s mother, who has been harboring Sevrine’s family and others throughout the Nazi occupation.

Based on the true experiences of the author’s great aunt, Marcel Solliliage, this poignant story is a good introduction to the terrors of Nazism, racism, and World War II. The emphasis is on simple friendship and quiet heroism, with an occasional lapse into clich├ęd metaphor (butterfly as symbol of freedom). Any child can relate to the bewilderment the two friends experience in the face of prejudice. Patricia Polacco has written and illustrated many other picture books, including Chicken Sunday and Pink and Say. (Ages 6 to 9) –Emilie Coulter

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Tags: butterfly, hiding from the nazis, true experiences, little ghost, nazi occupation

2 Comments

  1. Ford City Public Library says:

    The best book ever! Acquainting readers with holocaust history, The Butterfly by Patricia Polacco successfully maintains virtuosity to a war tale of sadness and tragedy while still exploring a delicate balance between the horrors of war and the childish innocence of two little girls cheerfully building a friendship. Based on the life experience of the author/illustrator’s aunt Monique, the girl protagonist discovers that her family is hiding a Jewish family in her home. Secretly meeting and playing together each night after the other members of the families sleep, Monique and Sevrine build a poetic friendship full of hope, happiness, and a childish energy that defies the boundaries between war cultures. After a neighbor catches sight of the girls playing too close to the window, the girls realize that the secret hiding place might be suspected. The plot races onward to an exciting climax as Monique and Sevrine must divulge not only their secret friendship but also the new danger to their parents. Escaping to a new hiding place, Sevrine’s family is whisked away into the dark night of the unknown, while Monique hopes for her friend’s safety. A symbolic butterfly fluttering through the French family’s garden later assures Monique that her friend must be alive and safe. An author’s note in the end pages assures readers that Sevrine did survive the holocaust-although her parents were not as fortunate. The characters, while handled lightly in words, convey roundness in the authentic sense of emotions as they run the gamut of fear, comfort, hate, and love. Convincing as a memoir, The Butterfly successfully conveys the quiet strength of individuals amidst trial. Perfect as a delicate and sophisticated handling of a cruel time in history, The Butterfly provides an appropriate way to dialogue with children about the uglier side of humanity-without crossing into the gruesome or blatantly shocking (although also true) stories of war that sometimes make war books inappropriate for younger children. The Butterfly provides allusions to war crimes that will be understood by older children while still providing an eye-opening tale of friendship to younger children. Targeting the age range of 6-9, The Butterfly adeptly provides insight into the beauty of life while describing life’s fragility. Known as the author/illustrator of numerous books including Pink and Say, Patricia Polacco’s pencil and watercolor illustrations highlight the contrast between the cruel and the innocent. The dust jacket of the book is a perfect symbol of the juxtaposition between innocence and cruelty since the front side of the cover depicts irises, a butterfly, and a young girl with warm watercolor tones and delicate chiaroscuro while flipping the book over reveals a Nazi officer with a hard-set jaw and unseen eyes with a swastika banner depicted in harsh black, gray, and browns. Polacco’s story is an important history while her illustrations make that history palatable and vivid to child and adult viewers. Experiencing The Butterfly means contemplating unsettling human history while savoring the security of friendship.

  2. Katerina Canyon "poetkat" says:

    Booklist I’m not quite sure why booklist would think it unfortunate that a book is sentamental and melodramatic. I feel this book reflects the Polacco style that we have all come to know and love. The voice is true, the artwork divine and the message is clear, yet not preachy. I think this is a wonderful book and a great way to open discussions about war and racism with children.

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