Teaching Life Science with Children’s Literature: It’s a Butterfly’s Life

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.

Curriculum Connections

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).

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