Children’s Books About Monarch Butterflies

Fall is the perfect time to teach children about Monarch butterflies. Whether you are a teacher, parent or grandparent, here are nine books to read to young ones and help them discover the magical lives and migration of these amazing butterflies.

Monarch Butterflies by Ann Hobbie and Illustrated by Olga Baumert

With easy-to-read text and colorful, engaging illustrations, Monarch Butterflies presents young readers with rich, detailed information about the monarch’s life cycle, anatomy, and the wonders of their migration, as well as how to raise monarchs at home and the cultural significance of monarchs in Day of the Dead celebrations. As the book considers how human behavior has harmed monarchs, it offers substantive ways kids can help make a positive difference. Children will learn how to turn lawns into native plant gardens, become involved in citizen science efforts such as tagging migrating monarchs and participating in population counts, and support organizations that work to conserve butterflies.

Monarch Butterflies by Ann Hobbie, Illustrated by Olga Baumert • Click here or on the book cover for details.

How to Raise Monarch Butterflies: A Step-by-Step Guide for Kids by Carol Pasternak

If your children want to learn how to raise Monarch butterflies, this is the book you must have. Carol Pasternak, The Monarch Butterfly Crusader, has filled the book with colorful and detailed photos. She shares secrets to help you find eggs and caterpillars, then provides detailed instructions on how to feed Monarch caterpillars, as well as how to take of Monarch adults.

How to Raise Monarch Butterflies: A Step-by-Step Guide for Kids by Carol Pasternak. • Click here or on the book cover for details.

Gotta Go, Gotta Go written by Sam Swope and illustrated by Sue Riddle

This is a very fun book to read aloud to children, beginning with the monarch caterpillar chanting, “I don’t know much, but I know what I know. I gotta go! I gotta go! I gotta go to Mexico!” In simple, jaunty text and pictures, children will learn about the magical transformation of a caterpillar into a butterfly and its fantastic journey to Mexico.

Gotta Go, Gotta Go written by Sam Swope and illustrated by Sue Riddle. • Click here or on the book cover for details.

Home Is Calling: The Journey of the Monarch Butterfly written by by Sharon Katz Cooper and illustrated by Ellie Peterson

As the sun dawns in Canada, a flutter of monarch butterflies take flight, ready to begin their months-long journey to their ancestral home in Mexico. The migration will not be easy, but it is necessary for the next generation of monarchs to be born. Brought to life with illustrations as vivid as the monarch’s iconic orange and black hues, this story invites young readers to experience the monarch’s migration from the butterflies’ point of view as they search for food, huddle together through storms, and tirelessly fly south.

Home Is Calling: The Journey of the Monarch Butterfly by Katherine Pryor (Author), Ellie Peterson (Illustrator). • Click here or on the book cover for details.

Monarch Butterfly (New & Updated) by Gail Gibbons

Follow the transformation from a tiny white egg laid on a leaf to a brilliantly colored butterfly in this kid-friendly introduction to metamorphosis.  With detailed, bright watercolors, Gail Gibbons illustrates the life cycle of the monarch butterfly, stage by stage, as it grows, changes, and takes flight.

Monarch Butterfly by Gail Gibbons • Click here or on the book cover for details.

When Butterflies Cross the Sky (Extraordinary Migrations) written by Sharon Katz Cooper and illustrated by Joshua S Brunet

Focusing on the migration journey of one specific monarch butterfly, When Butterflies Cross the Sky engages readers with a story-like narrative while subtly teaching the role of migration in the butterfly’s life cycle. Includes a “fast facts” page, a glossary, and realistic, text-match illustrations that pull readers right into the sky.

When Butterflies Cross the Sky (Extraordinary Migrations) written by Sharon Katz Cooper and illustrated by Joshua S Brunet. • Click here or on the book cover for more information.

Monarch Magic! Butterfly Activities & Nature Discoveries by Lynn Rosenblatt

Learn about the world of the monarch butterfly and milkweed habitat in this beautiful book with full-color photographs throughout. An excellent resource for parents and teachers with many learning activities.  ~ “If there is a better book for children about butterflies, we haven’t seen it.” – National Parenting Center

Monarch Magic! Butterfly Activities & Nature Discoveries by Lynn Rosenblatt • Click here or on the book cover for details.

Senorita Mariposa by Ben Gundersheimer

Rhyming text in both English and Spanish along with lively illustrations showcase the epic journey taken by the monarch butterflies each year from Canada to Mexico. “Over mountains capped with snow, to the deserts down below.” Children will be delighted to share in the fascinating journey of the monarchs and be introduced to the people and places they pass before they finally arrive in the forests that their ancestors called home.

Senorita Mariposa is written by Ben Gundersheimer and illustrated by Marcos Almada Rivero. • Click here or on the book cover for details.

Need more books recommendations for children? Click here for the Top Twelve Children’s Butterfly Books.

Harvesting Milkweed Seeds

Timing is everything when harvesting milkweed seeds! Too soon and the seeds will be immature and won’t germinate, too late and they will have either blown away or create a flossy mess you’ll need to deal with. 

When the seeds are ready to disperse, the floss will expand, causing the pod to burst. For those wishing to collect seed, this floss can be problematic, creating a messy barrier to gathering large amounts of viable seed. There are several options for separating the floss, but the best option is to plan your timing so that you are able to easily remove the seed as soon as it is mature, but before the silky floss has expanded.

Once the milkweed seed pods open, the wind will blow the floss and seeds away from the pod making it difficult to collect the seeds.

Milkweed seeds should be brown and leathery when mature, though the pods themselves may still be green. You can test an unopened pod for maturity by applying gentle pressure to the seam. If the center seam of the pod pops with gentle pressure, the seed pod is ready to be picked. If it does not open readily, the seeds inside are immature.

The perfect time to harvest seeds from milkweed pods is when the pod is starting to pop open at the suture and the seeds are brown. Typically seed pods are brown when the seeds are ready to harvest such as the common milkweed pods on the left.  The showy milkweed pods on the right are green but since the seeds are brown they are ready to harvest. (Photo courtesy of Brent Potter.)

Be aware of the milkweed beetle around open seed pods. These beetles are orange and black and will damage the seeds, making them nonviable. While the bugs do no harm to the plant, if a pod is covered in these insects it’s likely the seed inside is no longer viable and those pods should be avoided.

The beetle is not able to chew its way into the pods but will wait for the pod to open. A rubber band lightly wrapped around the pod will prevent the milkweed beetle entry to the seedpod. Cheesecloth or organza can also be used to surround the seedpods until they are mature.

You can use rubber bands on the milkweed pods to make it easier to harvest the seeds. It can also help prevent the milkweed bugs from getting to the seeds. (Photo courtesy of Linda Herard.)
Organza bags are a perfect solution to protecting seed pods on milkweed and making it easier to collect seeds. You can find them in craft sores or on Amazon.

Once you have collected the milkweed seeds you can store them in a paper bag or envelope until you are ready to plant them. Most native milkweed seeds require cold stratification in order to germinate. Seeds can be planted in the fall on a prepared bed, winter sowed in containers, or planted in the spring after the seeds have been cold stratified in the refrigerator. Click here for more details:

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Monarchs and Milkweed

I am reading a fascinating book by Anurag Agrawal, an American professor at Cornell University of ecology, evolutionary biology, and entomology, called Monarchs and Milkweed: A Migrating Butterfly, a Poisonous Plant, and Their Remarkable Story of Coevolution. In it he describes the unique relationship between monarchs and milkweeds.

Monarchs and Milkweed: A Migrating Butterfly, a Poisonous Plant, and Their Remarkable Story of Coevolution by Anurag Agrawal. Click here to purchase book.

Monarchs need milkweed to survive since it is the only plant they use to feed their young. Without milkweed, there would be no monarchs. Fortunately, in North America alone, there are 100 different species of milkweed on which female monarchs seek to lay their eggs.

Find these and other native milkweed seeds here:

Milkweeds get their common name from the milky color of its sap. The sap contains toxins, called cardenolides, which the monarch has adapted to be able to ingest. These toxins serve to protect both the plants and the monarchs from predators. Milkweed provides protection for the monarch larvae as well as the adult butterflies. But the milkweed plants can also be toxic to the caterpillars so they have developed strategies to benefit from the alkaloids in the latex sap to prevent from being killed by those same toxins.

The latex sap of milkweed contains cardiac glycosides, among a variety of other toxic chemicals.

The newly hatched tiny caterpillar must face the challenge of the milkweed latex as it begins its first meal. A first instar caterpillar is so tiny this sticky substance can easily immobilize it if it isn’t careful. Typically the newbie caterpillars chew a small circle and then are able to eat the center portion. This behavior is called “trenching.” By doing so, the caterpillar effectively drains the latex from that small area of the leaf, and makes itself a safe meal. The method isn’t foolproof, however, and a good number of early instar monarchs become mired in latex and die. According to some research, as many as 30% of first instar caterpillars do not survive. (Source : It’s the first bites that count: Survival of first-instar monarchs on milkweeds by Myron P. Zalucki.)

After hatching, the larva eats its eggshell (chorion). It then eats clusters of fine hairs on the bottom of the milkweed leaf before starting in on the leaf itself. It feeds in a circular motion, often leaving a characteristic, arc-shaped hole in the leaf.

Fourth and fifth instar caterpillars larvae deactivate latex before eating leaves by chewing a shallow notch in the petiole (the stalk which attaches the leaf blade to the stem) of the leaf they are eating, which causes the leaf to fall into a vertical position. After the leaf hangs down, the caterpillar will flip around to eat the leaf.

The sticky latex sap in milkweed can make it difficult for the Monarch caterpillar to feed. This fifth instar caterpillar overcomes the obstacle by cutting the petiole of the leaf to halt the flow of sap, thus making the leaf easier to eat and preventing from consuming too much of the toxic sap.

Monarch larvae consume so much milkweed they increase their body mass by as much as 2,000 times or more during the larval stage.

One Monarch caterpillar will consume about 7-8 leaves of Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca). (Photo by Holli Hearn of Beautiful Monarch. Used with permission.)

To help monarch butterflies to survive and to thrive we need to plant more milkweed. You can never have enough milkweed when you are feeding hungry monarch caterpillars!


Five Common Butterflies


There are approximately 20,000 species of butterflies in the world. About 725 species are found in North America north of Mexico, with about 575 of these occurring regularly in the lower 48 states of the United States, and with about 275 species occurring regularly in Canada. In most parts of the United States, you can find roughly 100 species of butterflies near your home. The number is higher in the Rio Grande Valley and some parts of the West, somewhat less in New England. As one goes northward into Canada the number decreases, while as one goes southward into Mexico the number greatly increases. (

Here is a list of some of the five most common butterflies found throughout the United States. Plant their host plants to attract them to your garden.

Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta)

Red Admiral butterflies are one of the most common species seen in North America and across the world. Red Admiral Butterflies have a unique favorite food – they love fermented fruit! If you’d like to attract them, try placing overripe cut fruit in a sunny spot in your yard. 

Identifying Characteristics:

  • Red Admirals have a wingspan of 1.75 to 2.5 inches.
  • The coloring is dark brown with a reddish circular band and white spots. The underside of the back wings looks similar to bark.
  • The caterpillars are pinkish-gray to charcoal with white spots. They have spines along the back that resemble hairs.

Host plants include False Nettle (Boehmeria cylindrica), Pellitory (Parietaria pensylvanica), and Nettles (Urtica spp.).

Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui)

The Painted Lady butterfly is one of the most widespread of all butterflies, found on every continent except Antarctica and South America.

Identifying Characteristics:
• Painted Lady butterflies have a wingspan of 1.75 to 2.5 inches.
• The coloring is pinkish-orange, with dark brown to black markings near the wingtips and white spots inside the black markings.
• The caterpillars’ coloring is variable, ranging from greenish-yellow to charcoal. Most have light-colored spots.

Host plants include an incredibly wide range of plants from many different families: Borage (Borage officinalis), Hollyhock (Alcea spp.), Mallow (Mallow spp.), Plantain (Plantago spp.), Sunflowers (Helianthius spp.), and Thistles (Cirsium spp.)

American Lady (Vanessa virginiensis)

Male American Ladies sip moisture and nutrients from damp soil. Females are often observed flying low in search of their ground-hugging host plants. Both sexes avidly nectar at a variety of plants and are often among those early spring butterflies that nectar from wild plum blossoms. (Alabama Butterfly Atlas)

Identifying Characteristics:

• American Lady Butterflies have a wingspan of 1.75 to 2.5 inches.
• The coloring of this species is a brilliant orange with dark borders and markings and white and purple spots. The underwings have an ornate pattern similar to a cobweb.
• On the underside of the wings, American Lady butterflies have eyespots. These circular markings make the butterfly look intimidating to predators, warding off potential danger.

Host plants include Pearly Everlasting (Anaphalis margaritacea), Pussy-Toes (Antennaria spp.), Sweet Everlasting (Pseudognaphalium obtusifolium), and Silver Brocade (Artemisia Stellerina).

American Lady and Painted Lady butterflies look very similar to each other. Here are some field markings to help you tell the difference.

Cabbage White (Pieris rapae)

The Cabbage White was accidentally introduced to Quebec, Canada, around 1860 and spread rapidly throughout North America. The caterpillar, often referred to as the “imported cabbageworm”, is a pest to crucifer crops such as cabbage, kale, bok choy and broccoli. (

Identifying Characteristics:
• Cabbage White Butterflies have a wingspan of 1.25 to 2 inches.
• The wings are light greenish to white, with black wing tips and black dots in the center of each wing. Males have one black dot on each side, and females have two.
• Caterpillars, sometimes called Cabbage Worms, are dark green with a light green stripe along the back.

Host plants include Broccoli (Brassica oleraceae spp.), Brussel Sprouts (Brassica oleracea), Cabbage (Brassica capitata), Cauliflower (Brassica botrytis), Flowering Kale (Brassica oleraceae acephala), Turnip (Br rapa), Prairie Pepperweed (Lepidium densiflorum), Peppergrass (Lepidium virginicum), Nasturtium (Nasturtium spp.), Radish (Raphanus sativus), Spider-Flower (Cleome spp.), and Sweet Alyssum (Lobularia maritime).

Common Buckeye (Junonia coenia)

Named for its conspicuous target-shaped eyespots, the Common Buckeye is one of the most distinctive and readily-identifiable North American butterflies. It inhabits a wide variety of open, sunny landscapes including old fields, roadsides, utility corridors, gardens, parks, yards, fallow agricultural land, scrubs, pine savannas, and weedlots. (

Identifying Characteristics:
• Common Buckeye butterflies have a wingspan of 2 to 2.5 inches.
• Their coloring is brown with orange bars. Black and white rings outline three to four prominent eyespots with middles in blue, magenta, orange, and green shades.
• Caterpillars are dark brown to black with stripes along the back and sides and spines around the entire body.

Host Plants include Wild Petunia (Ruellia humilis), Violet Ruellia (Ruellia nudiflora), Plantain (Plantago spp.), False Foxglove (Aureolaria grandifloria), Paintbrush (Castilleja spp.), Toad-Flax (Nuttallanthus canadensis), Common Frogfruit (Lippia nodiflora), Lance-Leaf Frogfruit (Lippia lanceolata) and Brazilian Verbena (Verbena bonariensis).

Click on the link to purchase seeds for these and other host plants for butterflies:

Plant Milkweed!

This time of year I often get asked if it is too late to plant milkweed. As far as I am concerned, it is never too late to plant milkweed. According to Theodore Payne Foundation for Wildflowers and Native Plants, germination of native milkweed can be achieved all the way into July.

Not all native milkweeds need pretreatment such as cold stratification before planting. Aquatic Milkweed (Asclepias perennis), Narrowleaf Milkweed (Asclepias fascicularis), and Wooly-Pod (Asclepias eriocarpa) can be planted directly into a pot or into the ground.

Click here to purchase seeds:

I have been told that Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa) and Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) also do not need to be cold stratified. I have successfully geminated the latter two by using the “Jarmination” method I learned from Brad Grimm at Grow Milkweed Plants.

I was able to germinate these Antelope Horn milkweed seeds without cold stratification in only six days using the Jarmination Method. Click here to learn more.

There are also non-native milkweeds that do not need to be cold stratified including Scarlet Milkweed (Asclepias curassavica), Balloon Milkweed (Gomphocarpus physocarpus), Swan Milkweed (Gomphocarpus fruticosus), Giant Crown Flower (Calotropis gigantea), and Procera Milkweed (Calotropis procera). These milkweeds are perennials in USDA Zones 9-11 and annuals in colder zones unless protected from frost and freeze.

Click here to purchase seeds:

Milkweed is not only the only plant that sustains monarch caterpillars, but the flowers provide wonderful nectar for many different species of butterflies as well as all kinds of pollinators including bees, moths, and hummingbirds.

So don’t wait, plant milkweed!

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