Butterfly Wings

Our Life in Posts and Pictures

The Butterfly April 2, 2010

Filed under: Butterfly,Historical Fiction — anet smith @ 7:17 am

I was prompted to read The Butterfly when a student asked for books on the Holocaust. (I also found Someone Named Eva, by Joan M. Wolf.)

Patricia Polacco wrote The Butterfly about an event from her aunt Monique Boisseau Gaw’s childhood. Monique lived in Nazi occupied France and befriends a “ghost girl”. The friend is actually not a ghost, but a Jewish girl, Sevrine, who is hiding with her family in Monique’s cellar. The girls secretly spend time together and Monique brings things from the outside world in for Servine to see. One night she brings a papillion, a butterfly, in and the girls release it. Servine longs to be as free as the butterfly.

This is a heartwarming tale of friendship, courage and selfless giving. It does not gloss over the evil of dark parts of World history, but presents them truthfully in a way that would be appropriate for children (perhaps grade three and above). Ms. Polacco says on her website that “children understand more than we give them credit for”.

An author’s note is included in the book that gives historical background of her family being part of the French underground and resistance and information on what happened to Monique and Servine’s friendship.

If you haven’t visited Patricia Polacco’s website, you should. She has written and illustrated many wonderful tales from her life. The site (click here) also has e-postcards of Polacco’s art that you can send.


SARAH, PLAIN AND TALL – Historical Fiction November 12, 2008

Filed under: Historical Fiction — anet smith @ 8:23 pm


MacLachlan, Patricia.  Sarah, Plain and Tall.  New York: HarperCollins, 1985.  ISBN:  0060241020



1996 Newbery Medal Winner

“Did Mama sing every day?” starts off Sarah, Plain and Tall.  Anna and Caleb’s mother died the day after Caleb was born.  After their father advertises in the newspaper for a wife, Sarah Elisabeth Wheaton from Maineresponds and comes to stay with the Whitting family.  The family spends time getting to know Sarah who has a cat, loves the sea, draws, picks flowers, braids hair, and yes, sings. Anna and Caleb are worried when Sarah wants to go into town alone.  Sarah misses her home and the children are afraid she will abandon them.



This book is simple, yet full of meaning.  The thoughts, actions and feelings of young Anna and Caleb reveal their everyday life and do an excellent job showing prairie life and how one their age would respond to loss.  The plot quickly develops and is good natured and easy going even though it deals with children’s fears.  MacLachlan’s writing style is extremely fluid and makes you want to keep reading.  Knowing how much material is available to go with this book, the sequels and movie only add to my delight with the story.  My fourth grade son is reading this book now in class and at first I was concerned he wouldn’t like it because the main character is a girl, but he really seems to be enjoying the story.



Note:  It was difficult to find professional reviews of this book.  Several found were of the audio recording.


THE NEW YORK TIMES: “An exquisite, sometimes painfully touching tale.”

AMAZON.COM  “The tale gently explores themes of abandonment, loss and love.”



*Also by MacLachlan and sequels to Sarah, Plain and Tall

Skylark ISBN: 0064406229

Caleb’s Story ISBN: 0060236051

*Watch the Hallmark Hall of Fame movie after reading the book.

*Many activities for geography, writing, grammar, and even science and math.

*Family, mail order brides, the prairie, westward expansion.

*Discuss something you miss and how you keep the memory alive.  Draw a picture in the way Sarah would have. 

*There is a plethora of material available on the web.  Here are just a few sites: 






SEESAW GIRL – Historical Fiction

Filed under: Historical Fiction — anet smith @ 1:07 pm


Park, Linda Sue.  Seesaw Girl.  Ill. by Jean and Moue-Sien Tseng.  New York: Clarion Books, 1999.  ISBN:  0395915147



In seventeenth-century Korea, Jade Blossom is confined to her family’s Inner Court where she learns to sew and embroider, do laundry and take care of her family in preparation for the time she will do the same for her future husband.  However, Jade is free-spirited.  She causes simple mischief for her brother and yearns for the freedom to see the mountains and to see and do all the things the male members of the family do.  When Jade’s best friend and cousin, Willow, marries she is determined to see her again.  During Jade’s adventure out, she sees and learns so much, but is only more curious about the outside world and is disappointed when her cousin follows custom and won’t see her.  Jade is left to find ways to accept her place in an aristocratic family. 




Jade, the main character of Seesaw Girl, is vivid and authentic. Readers will quickly like her playfulness and will take up her cause to know more of the world beyond the Inner Court.  The average youth of today will have no concept of the world Jade experienced.  Much discussion will be necessary to provide connections and understanding of why the plot is happening the way it does.  However, the themes of longing and contentment will be clear.


The setting of the home is described in detail, but information about the time is not explicit.  Perhaps it is because the protagonist doesn’t really know herself! Readers are left to interpret more about the setting based on the constraints. 


Seesaw Girl has a few wonderful black and white illustrations that show period dress and even capture emotion from the story.  The author ends with a note explaining Korea’s period of isolation and a bibliography.  Both are helpful in filling in details and supporting accuracy of the book. 



SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL:  “The story is full of lively action and vivid descriptions, enhanced by appealing black-and-white paintings to give a clear sense of the period.”


KIRKUS: “The evocative descriptions and Jade’s intensity in creating new ways to learn will capture and hold readers.”



*Use websites to explore Korean culture today.  One is www.countryreports.org (a subscription is required).

*Explore the history of women’s rights in the United States.  Make connections with Seesaw Girl. 

*From the author’s website, http://www.lindasuepark.com/index.html

Take the multiple choice quiz.

Write to the author.

Start a swap journal with a friend. (You write in a notebook – poem, list, short story, whatever and then give it to a friend to add to your entry.  They do the same.  Keep swapping.)

*Also by Linda Sue Parks

When My Name Was Keoko ISBN: 0440419441.  This book will give a picture of life in Korea in the 1940s (as opposed to the 17th century).


ELIJAH OF BUXTON – Historical Fiction November 11, 2008

Filed under: Historical Fiction — anet smith @ 11:25 pm


Curtis, Christopher Paul.  Elijah of Buxton. New York: Scholastic Press, 2007.  ISBN:  9780439023443



Elijah was the first child born free in the settlement of Buxton, Canada.  For the first two thirds of the book we learn of Elijah’s everyday life, his frag-ileness (he’s afraid of snakes and cries easily), his quest to learn “the secret language of being growned”, the personalities of the people of Buxton, and how they work together in their community.  Elijah struggles with the actions of a man who calls himself “the Right Reverend Deacon Doctor Zephariah Connerly the Third”, especially when the Preacher tricks him out of some of the fish he caught and later tries to sell his talent for accurately hitting things (killing fish, putting out candle flames) with rocks to a mesmerist.  After the Preacher steals money from someone in the settlement who saved for years to buy their family’s freedom, Elijah sets off after him.  While in America, Elijah encounters several “growned up” situations including a group of run-away slaves who had been captured.  He must find the courage and strength to return to Buxton and does so in a way that he’ll be remembered for more than the baby who vomited on Frederick Douglas.



Curtis does an excellent job of tackling a difficult subject from the view point of an eleven year old.  Elijah is believable and even though he lived at a very different time, modern students will relate to his interactions with friends, time at school, confusion, and pranks.  They’ll love the pranks!  Humor abounds in this book, but it doesn’t make the reality of the evil dealt with too soft. 


Although necessary to develop characters, explain setting, and give the foundation for the theme, the first third of this book was tedious to me.  Since Elijah of Buxton is written from Elijah’s point of view, most of the book whether conversation or narrative is authentic to his dialect.  This however, made the story not flow well until the climax and falling action when it was too exciting to be bothered by the challenge.


The author’s note included at the end of the book offers validity and more information for readers.  Ultimately, the timeless themes of hope, courage and freedom in Elijah are so powerful that you will walk away saying, “That was a moving and wonderful book.”



BOOKLIST:  “Many readers drawn to the book by humor will find themselves at times on the edges of their seats in suspense and, at other moments, moved to tears.

HORN BOOK: “This arresting, surprising novel of reluctant heroism is about nothing less than nobility.”



*Recent awards

The 2008 Coretta Scott King Award
The 2008 Scott O’Dell Award for Historical Fiction

*Other books by Curtis

Bud Not Buddy ISBN 0385323069

The Watsons go to Birmingham – 1963 ISBN: 0440414121

*Author’s Web site  http://www.randomhouse.com/features/christopherpaulcurtis/

*Buxton National Historic Site & Museum, http://www.buxtonmuseum.com/

*Great novel study while studying The Underground Railroad, slavery, or any key figures such as Frederick Douglas.

*Discuss themes from the book.  Use them to express thoughts and feelings on the topic in writing.

*Have students write a narrative about what their escape from slavery might be like.  Include the part from Elijah were the “Liberty Bell” is rung and how they feel when they hear it.