Most children are thoroughly familiar with the classic Eric Carle book The Hungry Little Caterpillar, and while that book does a great job of introducing them to the various stages of a butterfly’s life, there are so many more interesting facts that are part of a butterfly’s life cycle story. The book It’s a Butterfly’s Life, written and illustrated by Irene Kelly, is chock full of amazing details and lovely illustrations. There are about 17,500 different types of butterflies and 160,000 types of moths in the world, and Kelly uses her illustrations to help children understand the differences between the two insects. Something that most people do not know is that a butterfly’s taste buds are located in their feet: “You might not be able to taste a cupcake by standing on it, but a butterfly can!” Other fun features of the book include a close up look at the scales on the wings, the buttterfly’s proboscis rendered in close-up detail, an explanation of the migratory feats of the mighty monarchs, and the ways butterflies use camoflague to scare off predators.
The most remarkable part of a butterfly’s story is of course its transformative metamorphosis. Kelly helps put it in perspective for children by relaying this incredible fact: “A caterpillar is a leaf-eating machine. Just two weeks after hatching, Monarch caterpillars are 2,700 times their originial weight! If a newborn baby gained weight that fast, it would weigh eight tons in fourteen days. That’s as big as two full-grown rhinos!” In every class that I have used this book to talk about butterflies, this fact never fails to elicit huge gasps of awe. While Kelly ends her story by talking about the threats butterflies face due to habitat destruction, she gently reminds readers what they can do to help beautify their world by planting flowers in a yard to attract butterflies.
Because the book is so very detailed in certain sections, parts of this book work well as a read-aloud, while other parts can be simply shown to the class as part of a picture walk. Children will certainly enjoy having time to peruse this book on their own, so it would be a good addition to an elementary classroom library. It would be best utilized in a discussion of changes and life cycles in a kindergarten class (K.6) or second grade (2.4a). Third graders learning more about life cycles would enjoy it as well (3.8), especially as they explore how animals migrate and use camoflage to survive (3.4b).
National Geographic Kids’ Creature Feature: Monarch Butterflies: This kid-friendly site has loads of information about monarchs – facts and photos, video of their migration from Canada to Mexico, a world map showing where monarchs are found, and a printable fact sheet.
The Children’s Butterfly Site by the Big Sky Institute at Montana State University: Here you can find good photos and text about the life cycle of butterflies and moths, as well as links to photo galleries, species stories, and teaching and learning tools.
The American Museum of Natural History (NYC)’s Butterfly Conservatory: Like other museum butterfly exhibitions, the AMNH provides a link to its butterfly exhibition (Tropical Butterflies Alive in Winter, through 5/31/2010), a butterfly cam link, FAQ’s, a photo gallery, and tips on how to grow a butterfly garden of your own.
The Boston Museum of Science activity for early elementary schoolers: Capillary Action Butterflies: Children can learn more about the differences between moths and butterflies through this science activity.
Enchanted Learning has lots of links to elementary level activities: anatomical drawings of butterflies and moths, butterfly and moth life cyle sequencing cards and printable books, and even a butterfly and moth Venn Diagram.