On the Wing

Monarch and Milkweed
by Helen Frost and illus. by Leonid Gore
Atheneum/S & S, hardcover, $17.99
ages 4-8

A couple of years ago I did a project for an author who had written a children’s book about butterflies and so I have more than a passing knowledge of the many butterfly books out there, worthwhile and not so.
Monarch and Milkweed is special for many reasons – its story; the masterful pairing of text and art; the book’s design. Listen to the beginning – yes, read it out loud – “In a patch of dirt behind an old red barn,/ Milkweed stretches into warm spring air./ Its roots reach deep and wide,/ its stem points to the sky. (Next page) Monarch spreads her wings and rides the wind –/ past white and yellow daisies, across a creek,/ heading north.” And that lyricism continues throughout as the story describes the symbiotic relationship between host plant and butterfly, neither overshadowing the other. The illustrations of acrylic and pastels are mostly full page, with some spot art contributing to the book’s pleasing design, and in a larger-than-life scale that pulled me in. The natural colors are muted and there’s a textured effect (from the type of paper?) that I really liked. (The cover image distorts the color some.)
The author’s note tells us the story begins with the final generation on one northern journey and ends with a monarch in the next generation, as that monarch is leaving Mexico to begin the journey north the following spring. In addition, the endpapers illustrate the monarchs’ migration patterns north and south. Monarchs continue to fascinate us because of their beauty and mystery. While this title illuminates that mystery for young ones, it also retains some of nature’s wonder.

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