Tag Archives: Mexico

Día de los Muertos and Monarch Butterflies

 In Mexico, Monarch butterflies are beginning to arrive this week in their over-wintering sites as people prepare for Day of the Dead celebrations.

Monarchs in Mexico

Overwintering Monarch butterflies (Danaus plexippus) swirl and pivot in a sanctuary in Mexico’s Michoacán state. • Photo Copyright by Santuario Mariposa Monarca el Rosario. Used with permission.

Celebrations for Día De Los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, officially start November 1 and end November 2, the actual Day of the Dead. However, this popular Mexican holiday can start as early as Halloween.  The festival honors the lives of deceased ancestors and coincides with All Saints Day and All Souls Day–Catholic holidays dedicated to honoring the saints of the church and those who have died, but who have not yet gone to heaven, respectively.

Monarch Parade

Dressed up to celebrate Dia de los Muertos and the return of the Monarch butterflies. • Photo Copyright By Mari Osa of Madame’s Journey Home. Used with permission.

Day of the Dead is not about being scared of the supernatural, but rather about remembering the spirits of their loved ones.

monarchwoman

Catrina figures, costumed female with a skeleton face, have become associated with the Day of the Dead, and are a prominent part of modern Day-of-the-Dead observances. • Photo Copyright by Danilo Rizzetto. Used with permission.

Rather than dressing in all black and mourning the passing of loved ones, Día De Los Muertos becomes a colorful and vibrant national remembrance of the lives of deceased relatives and friends.

While most people who recognize the international holiday decorate their homes and grave sites of their ancestors with altars, relics, candles, foods, and drinks favored by the deceased; many cities will join in on the festivities by hosting parades, community-wide ceremonies and street parties.

Day of the Dead Street Scenes

Celebrations with parades, music and dance at El Rosario Monarch Butterfly Preserve in Michoacán State in Mexico welcome the return of Monarch butterflies. • Photo Copyright by Santuario Mariposa Monarca el Rosario. Used with permission.

In Michoacán, Mexico, Día de los Muertos, takes on an even more interesting aspect. According to traditional belief among Michoacán’s Mazahuas indigenous community, Monarch butterflies are souls of ancestors who return to Earth for their annual visit.

The video below, “Muerte Es Vida” (Death is Life), follows a family from Michoacán’s Mazahuas indigenous community as they celebrate Day of the Dead. Native peoples explain how the Monarch butterflies always return a few days before the celebrations begin. Children were taught to set out water to welcome the butterflies because they were tired and thirsty from their travels.

I Remember Abuelito: A Day of the Dead Story

I Remember Abuelito: A Day of the Dead Story / Yo Recuerdo a Abuelito: un Cuento del Día de los Muertos written by Janice Levy, illustrated by Loretta Lopez, and translated by Miguel Arisa. • Click Here or on the book cover to see more and to order.

Whether you live in Mexico or elsewhere, you can join in the Day of the Dead celebration by sharing these stories with your children and grandchildren and by downloading the information sheet below.

Uncle Monarch and Day of the Dead

Uncle Monarch and the Day of the Dead written by Judy Goldman and illustrated by René King Moreno. • Click Here to see more details and to order.

Madame's Journey Home

Madame’s Journey Home by Mariosa. • Click Here to see more details and to order.

Click Here to download this Día de los Muertos information sheet to learn more.

Top Five Children’s Butterfly Books

It’s incredibly difficult to choose five favorite children’s books about butterflies. So many wonderful books have been written for youngsters. But, let’s give it a go!

For your convenience, I’ve included links so that you can read more about each volume, including reviews, at Amazon.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle

The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle • Click Here or on the book cover for details.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle.

Of course my all-time favorite children’s book about butterflies is Eric Carle’s masterpiece. What a classic!

This is a fun book to read, but it is not the best book to teach children about butterflies. After all, caterpillars do not eat oranges, or apples, or chocolate cake. Neither do butterfly caterpillars make cocoons.

So I am not counting The Very Hungry Caterpillar in the top five best children’s butterfly books, but throw it in as a bonus with a very strong honorable mention.

Waiting for Wings by Lois Ehlert

Waiting for Wings written and illustrated by Lois Elhert. • Click Here or on the book cover for details.

Waiting for Wings written and illustrated by Lois Ehlert.

Uniquely designed and illustrated, this delightful story explains the life cycle of butterflies. Rich language and the author’s clever use of rhyme make this book appealing to young children.

Complete with butterfly and flower facts plus identification tips, as well as a guide to planting a butterfly garden, this butterfly book is like no other.

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

Gotta Go, Gotta Go written by Sam Swope and illustrated by Sue Riddle. • 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 (Danaus plexippus) 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.

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

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

patient

A Butterfly Is Patient written by Dianna Hutts Aston and illustrated by Sylvia Long. • Click Here or on the book cover for details.

A Butterfly Is Patient written by Dianna Hutts Aston and illustrated by Sylvia Long.

Children will learn so many interesting facts about butterflies in this beautifully illustrated book.

From iridescent blue Swallowtails (Papilio spp.) and brilliant orange Monarchs to the world’s tiniest butterfly, the Western Pygmy Blue (Brephidium exilis)and the largest, Queen Alexandra’s Birdwing (Ornithoptera alexandrae), an incredible variety of butterflies are represented in all of their beauty and wonder. A lyrical text makes this a beautiful yet informative and entertaining read.

My, Oh My–a Butterfly!

My, Oh My–a Butterfly!: All about Butterflies written by Tish Rabe and illustrated by Aristides Ruiz and Joe Mathieu. • Click Here or on the book cover for details.

My, Oh My–a Butterfly!: All About Butterflies written by Tish Rabe and illustrated by Aristides Ruiz and Joe Mathieu.

With a little help from the Cat in the Hat, Sally and Dick observe a small miracle in their own backyard—the metamorphosis of an egg into a caterpillar into a chrysalis into a bright new butterfly!

Along the way, beginning readers will discover how butterflies see thousands of images at once, drink nectar from flowers, avoid predators; and how they can be identified by size, shape, and color.

This book engages everyone with a fun combination of Dr. Seussian rhymes. It’s a delightful read, not only for children, but for adults, too.

Ten Little Caterpillars

Ten Little Caterpillars written by Bill Martin, Jr. and illustrated by Lois Elhert. • Click Here or on the book cover for details.

Ten Little Caterpillars written by Bill Martin, Jr. and illustrated by Lois Elhert.

I know, I was just supposed to name the top five children’s butterfly books but, technically, this is a book about caterpillars, and I just have to share.

It is written by Bill Martin, Jr., who wrote Brown, Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? and is illustrated by Lois Elhert, who wrote and illustrated Waiting for Wings (featured above). Each caterpillar has its own fun adventure. “The tenth little caterpillar hung on an apple tree… until by and by, it became a butterfly.” The rhyming is delightful. There’s also a glossary filled with intriguing information about all ten of the caterpillar stars!

Well, there you have it: the top five–make that top seven– children’s butterfly books for your enjoyment and to add to your personal butterfly library.

That First Monarch Butterfly Led the Way

My very first adventure with a Monarch butterfly was way back in the fall of 1982. I was a first-year teacher and had just started with a first-grade class at Timpanogos Elementary School, in Provo, Utah, USA.

Suzanne Tilton at Timpanogos Elementary School

Suzanne Tilton’s first year of teaching. Timpanogos Elementary School, Provo, Utah, USA; 1982

Timpanogos was a two-story school built in 1938. The floors in the classrooms were wooden and there were no modern conveniences. I loved that classroom, though, because large windows covered the east wall and I had a lovely view of Mount Timpanogos from my desk: verdant green in spring; the color of a hay field in summer; ablaze with yellows, reds and oranges in autumn; and snow-capped in winter.

Mount Timpanogos from Provo

Snow-capped Mount Timpanogos viewed from Provo, Utah, USA • Photo courtesy of Eric Ward via Wikipedia

I was blessed that year with a mentor who was a seasoned teacher. To help me get ready for the arrival of my students she took me to buy teacher supplies, she shared her lesson plans with me, she helped me organize my classroom, and she brought me a Monarch (Danaus plexippus) caterpillar in a jar.

I had never seen a Monarch caterpillar, and I am not sure if I had even ever seen a Monarch butterfly. I set the jar on my desk that sat next to the windows so that we both could start our new adventure together.

I still remember that first day of school like it was yesterday. I made so many mistakes it is a wonder I survived! By the end of the day I realized I knew nothing about teaching. What was I thinking? I never should have taken the job. I was destined for failure! I walked into my mentor’s classroom and cried. She reassured me that I would eventually get the hang of things.

Monarch Caterpillar in J Position

Monarch caterpillar in the “J” positon, hanging by its tail and preparing to shed its skin for the last time and pupate into a chrysalis.

The second day of school one of the students observed that the caterpillar had eaten all the leaves that were in the jar and it was hanging from the stem that was left over. The students were very concerned for the caterpillar because they thought it was dying. I reassured them that it was what the caterpillar had to do to become a butterfly.

Each day I found myself feeling more comfortable and self-assured. The students were also getting adjusted and were settling down to the classroom routine. Everyday I could feel improvements in managing the students’ behavior. I followed the lesson plans. As for the caterpillar, it just continued to hang from the stem, but now as a beautiful, jade-green Monarch chrysalis.

Monarch Chrysalis

Elegant jade-green Monarch chrysalis with its gold highlights.

Every morning at 10:30 we had recess, which was the favorite part of the day not only for my students, but also for me, because we loved going outside to play.  There was a door in the classroom that led to the outside through which we used to leave and walk to the playground.

Recently-emerged Monarch Butterfly

Recently-emerged Monarch butterfly.

One day, on our return to the classroom, a commotion erupted. The kids were jumping up and down and shouting excitedly, “Look Mrs. Tilton! Look!” As I walked in the room behind them I realized what all the excitement was about. A beautiful orange and black butterfly was now hanging from the stem inside the jar.

I calmed the kids down and explained that the butterfly needed it to be quiet or it would be frightened by the noise. I also realized that I would never get the kids focused on the math lesson I had planned to teach that day.

I gathered all the kids on the floor by my desk so we could observe the beautiful transformation that had occurred. They wanted to talk about what had just happened, so I gave every child an opportunity to discuss and ask questions. “Will it be able to fly away?” “Can we keep it?” “Where will it go?” “What will it eat?” I myself was new to this experience and did not know how to answer most of their questions. The Monarch butterfly continued to quietly hang inside the jar.

At lunchtime, I ran to the media center to find a book on butterflies, but could not find one. In the teacher’s lounge I saw my mentor and asked her what I should do. She said to take the lid off of the jar and when the butterfly was ready it would fly away. She then brought me a book about butterflies that I could read to the students and a filmstrip to show them. (If you don’t know what a filmstrip is, look it up on Google.)

How to Raise Monarch Butterflies

Wish that I had Carol Pasternak’s wonderful book, How to Raise Monarch Butterflies: A Step-by-Step Guide for Kids back in 1982. Click here or on the photo for book details and to order your own copy.

The rest of that day we learned more about Monarch butterflies. We learned that they actually start life as an egg. We learned that Monarch caterpillars only eat Milkweed (Asclepias spp.) plants. We were amazed to find out that the Monarch butterflies were heading south to Mexico for the winter. We discovered that our Monarch was a female. We wrote a classroom story about our female Monarch and the children enjoyed drawing pictures of our beautiful butterfly.

Then something magical happened. The Monarch came out of the jar and flew towards the windows. The students screamed with delight, “Look, look, look!” The children jumped from their desks and ran over to get closer to the butterfly. I walked over to the large window and pulled it down to open. We then watched that magnificent Monarch gracefully fly outside and start her southward journey.

Monarch Butterfly on the Wing

Monarch butterfly on the wing. • Photo courtesy of Margot Leandro. Copyright © 2011 by Margot Leandro. All Rights Reserved. Used with permission.

That day the orange and black butterfly taught me a lesson. She taught me how to be a better teacher. I witnessed the excitement on my students’ faces as they discovered something new and experienced the joy of learning. Children need real-life experiences to be able to connect to the things they read about in books and see on the internet. They need to make connections to their world before they can write about them.

I hung the pictures of their butterflies on the windows and pinned their story to the bulletin board for the parents to enjoy for our first open house. How wonderful it was to observe these kids share their learning with their parents. Many of those parents who were doubtful about this first-year teacher were now reassured that their children would learn under my tutelage, and all because of a Monarch butterfly.

Suzanne Tilton at Timpanogos Elementary School

Suzanne Tilton (far right) and her first-grade class at Timpanogos Elementary School, Provo, Utah, USA; 1982-1983

Looking back on that experience I realize that it was very symbolic of that first year teaching those 26 first graders. I struggled to become an effective teacher, just as the Monarch struggled out of its chrysalis. It was the start to a very long teaching career, just as it was the start for a very long journey to Mexico for the Monarch. And just as the caterpillar changed into a beautiful butterfly, my students also transformed that school year into readers and writers and began their long careers as life-long learners.

Butterfly Excitement in Chapel Hill NC

Butterfly Excitement in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA. The girl is holding a Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui) butterfly reared from one of Butterfly Lady’s Painted Lady Butterfly Caterpillar Rearing Kits

I continued to teach in public schools and after 28 years I retired and started my own business. I now raise butterflies, including Monarch butterflies. I bring my caterpillars and butterflies to classrooms and teach about the lifecycle of a butterfly. I let the kids hold and touch the caterpillars and butterflies. I experience over and over the delight on a child’s face when they get to hold a butterfly for the first time.

Caterpillar Rearing Kit

Butterfly Lady’s Painted Lady Butterfly Caterpillar Rearing Kit. Click here to check current availability and to place your order.

I also make low-cost Painted Lady Butterfly Caterpillar Rearing Kits that I sell so that others can experience the joy of raising and releasing a butterfly.

Yesterday, I received an email from a teacher who had purchased one of those kits: “I am a first-grade teacher in Boise, Idaho, and we released our Painted Lady butterflies last week. I want to say how much I appreciate your gift. We loved watching them develop, then fly away. Thank you, Suzanne!”

I love being the Butterfly Lady and owe my humble start to a Monarch caterpillar that led me on my own metamorphosis and migration.