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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.

Flowers for Fall-Migrating Monarch Butterflies

One of the surest ways to see fall-migrating Monarch butterflies is to plant flowers that attract them. Monarchs will drop from the sky for the nectar they need for energy during fall migrations.

(For your convenience, you can follow links on the various plants mentioned here to check for availability and price.)

Asters (Aster spp.) are a favorite of Monarchs (Danaus plexippus) in the fall, particularly the New England Aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae).

Monarch on aster

Monarch nectaring on Aster.

Sunflowers (Helianthus spp.), including Mexican Sunflower (Tithonia speciosa) and Swamp Sunflowers (Helianthus angustifolius) are late bloomers and provide nectar for migrating Monarchs.

Monarch on Orange Mexican Sunflower

Monarch nectaring on Orange Mexican Sunflower.

Monarch on Swamp Sunflower

Monarch nectaring on Swamp Sunflower.

Many Lantanas (Lantana spp.) are still blooming. Last year I had several Monarchs stop in late October in my North Carolina, USA, garden to sip the nectar from ‘Miss Huff’ Lantana (Lantana camara ‘Miss Huff’)

Monarch butterfly nectaring on ‘Miss Huff’ Lantana.

Goldenrod (Solidago spp.) is a wonderful fall blooming perennial that attracts Monarchs and comes in many different varieties.

Goldenrod

Goldenrod provides an enticing buffet for pollinators, including fall-migrating Monarchs and other butterflies.

Ironweed (Vernonia spp.) always attracts Monarchs.

Monarch sampling Ironweed nectar.

Other great nectar flowers to plant for fall-migrating Monarchs include these:
Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)
Autumn Joy Stonecrop (Sedum ‘Herbstfreude’)
Dense Blazingstar (Liatris spicata)
Showy Goldenrod (Solidago speciosa)
Anise Hyssop (Agastache foeniculum)
Joe-Pye Weed (Eupatorium fistulosum)
Rose Verbena (Verbena canadensis)

Hope for the Butterflies

I was thrilled when I discovered these Coontie bushes in a yard in West Palm Beach, Florida, USA. Yes, I know, they’re bare. But, that is actually good news because it means there’ve been caterpillars feeding on the leaves. And those caterpillars turn into cute little Atala butterflies!

Coontie plants

Coontie (Zamia integrifolia) plants that have been stripped of most leaves by hungry Atala (Eumaeus atala) caterpillars in West Palm Beach, Florida, USA. The plants will rejuvenate themselves in a few weeks, stimulated by their natural pruning.

This is significant because, at one point, the Atala butterfly, native to south Florida, was thought extinct during the mid 1960s. Atala butterflies use Coontie as the host plant for their caterpillars. Coontie is a small, tough, woody palm-like perennial plant.

Healthy Coontie plants

Healthy Coontie plants.

It was used by Native Americans and later by European settlers who processed the Coontie’s large storage root to extract an edible starch, which was used to make bread. Settlers continued the practice on an industrial level and by the early 1900s several commercial factories in south Florida processed Coontie roots for the manufacture of arrowroot biscuits.

Arrowroot biscuit advertisement

Vintage advertisement for Arnott’s Milk Arrowroot Biscuits.

Coontie plants started disappearing throughout Florida, and so did the Atala butterfly. By 1965, federal and state authorities thought the Atala was extinct.

Atala butterfly

Atala butterfly with its jet black, neon blue and orange markings.

Coontie has made a comeback because Sunshine State gardeners have rediscovered the native plant is well adapted to Florida yards. Its increased use in landscapes has encouraged the presence of the Atala butterfly. The Atala butterfly is now thriving, once again, in southern Florida.

Atala chrysalises

Atala chrysalises on Coontie with their fancy orange and yellow colors mimicking Coontie seeds for camouflage.

This is significant. Why? It means that you can make a huge impact protecting butterflies by growing the right plants in your yard. Currently, Monarch (Danaus plexippus) butterfly populations are in decline because native Milkweed plants (Asclepias spp.), which Monarchs use as hosts for their caterpillars, are disappearing from farm fields and roadsides where milkweeds used to thrive.

Karen Oberhauser, monarch expert and professor at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, said, “North American gardeners can contribute by planting milkweed and making their land more butterfly friendly. Given the conservation challenges facing monarchs, it’s vitally important that we mobilize as many people as possible. Through our collective efforts, monarch populations can rebound, so that their migrations may be appreciated by many generations to come,” she concluded.

Let’s work together, make our yards butterfly-friendly, plant Milkweed for the Monarchs (Danaus plexippus) and bring hope to these butterflies! Click here to locate Milkweed seeds for your garden.

Monarch butterfly

Monarch butterfly nectaring on Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa), a species of Milkweed which also happens to be their host plant.

Read more about the Monarch‘s situation in this National Geographic article.

What’s in a Name?

Ever wonder where the Monarch butterfly got its name?

Monarch nectaring on Tropical Milkweed

Monarch (Danaus plexippus) nectaring on Tropical Milkweed (Asclepias curassavica), also known as Scarlet Milkweed, Bloodflower, and Mexican Butterfly Weed.

Apparently, the sight of the Monarch butterfly and its orange color impressed the early settlers, who came to North America from Holland and England. So, they named it “Monarch,” after King William III, Prince of Orange, state holder of Holland, and later named King of England, according to Monarch Watch.

King William

King William III, Prince of Orange, state holder of Holland, and later named King of England. • Portrait by Sir Godfrey Kneller, circa 1680s.

Another version, related by Rick Mikula in The Family Butterfly Book, surmises that the early colonists of North America thought that the gold rim around the chrysalis reminded them of the king’s crown so they named the butterfly “Monarch.”

Queen and Monarch Chrysalises

Was the Queen (Danaus gilippus) butterfly so named because it resembles a Monarch but is smaller? Queen (left) and Monarch chrysalises shown in side-by-side comparison.

The scientific name of the Monarch, Danaus plexippus, has another origin. Danaus, great-grandson of Zeus, was a mythical king in Egypt or Libya, who founded Argos. Plexippus was one of the 50 sons of Aegyptus and the twin brother of Danaus.

“In Homeric Greek, plexippos means ‘one who urges on horses,’ i.e.: ‘rider or charioteer.’ Linnaeus, who came up with the scientific name, wrote that the names of the Danai festivi, the division of the genus to which Papilio plexippus belonged, were derived from the sons of Aegyptus.” –Wikipedia

Monarch nectaring on Miss Huff Lantana

Autumn-migrating Monarch nectaring on ‘Miss Huff’ Lantana (Lantana camara ‘Miss Huff’) in North Carolina, USA

Whatever the origin of its name, the Monarch butterfly truly is royalty!