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Handle With Care: An Unusual Butterfly Journey

Handle With Care: An Unusual Butterfly Journey
Written by Loree Griffin Burns
Photographs by Ellen Harasimowicz
ISBN 978-780761393429
Grades K – 6
Book Review
Few things feel more miraculous than witnessing the transformation of pupa to butterfly. This process is both celebrated and elaborated in a picture book photo essay by the team that brought us The Hive Detectives and Citizen Scientists.In this title, author Loree Griffin Burns and photographer Ellen Harasimowicz take a younger audience along on their field research, documenting their travels to El Bosque Nuevo, a special kind of farm in Costa Rica. “The farmers here don’t grow carrots or potatoes or cucumbers. They grow butterfly pupae.” Clear explanatory text, well suited for a primary and elementary audience, is accompanied by stunning photographs that provide illustration of the work involved in nurturing and harvesting pupae and elaborate the processes of metamorphosis. An overarching narrative traces the origins of a box containing pupae that arrives at the Museum of Science, in Boston, MA, thus the title An Unusual Butterfly Journey. In addition to a helpful glossary, clarification on the terminology of insect life cycles, further reading suggestions, and an author’s note, the back matter invites readers to investigate opportunities to view butterflies in museums or butterfly houses in their own communities. While an obvious and excellent choice for the commonly taught unit of study on life cycles, this well executed photo essay holds many other possibilities for classroom use, particular as a mentor text for nonfiction writing.
Teaching Ideas: Invitations for Your Classroom
Grades K – 4
Duet Model Reading with A Place for Butterflies. To engage your students in a comparison of butterflies in their natural habitats and butterflies on a farm, such as El Bosque Nuevo, read Handle with Care: An Unusual Butterfly Journey paired with Melissa Stewart’s A Place for Butterflies. Provide students with lots of discussion time to share their learning about butterfly life cycles, habitats and behaviors, and the need for conservation efforts. These two titles could be used to launch a unit of study on butterflies focusing on their role in ecosystems, current threats, and conservation efforts. After their initial reading and discussion to these two titles, students can brainstorm a list of inquiry questions to pursue, using additional print and digital texts.
Nonfiction Text Features. This narrative photo essay incorporates many features typically found in nonfiction texts. Do a walk through of the text with your students examining and discussing special features such the map, diagrams, captions, back matter, glossary and author’s note. You might want to create a chart on which you list the name of the feature and record students’ descriptions of the functions that each feature serves. Add to this list over time as you encounter additional features of nonfiction. When students are writing their own works of nonfiction the chart can serve as both inspiration and reference.
Understanding Metamorphosis. Gather a collection of texts to use in a Solar System model (see our Teaching With Text Sets entry for a description of this instructional model) focusing on metamorphosis. Depending on the age of your students, you may choose to have students read one or multiple texts in a small group or you may read them aloud to your students over the course of several days. Read titles such as: Frogs, Butterflies, Growing Frogs, How do Tadpoles Become Frogs?, Metamorphosis: Changing Bodies, and Face to Face with Caterpillars (see listing of books below). Provide your students with note-making graphic organizers that prompt them to illustrate and write about the changes frogs, butterflies, and beetles undergo through the process of metamorphosis.
Grades 2 – 6
Missing Monarchs?: Butterflies as Endangered Species. Recently, backyard observers, naturalists, and scientists have noticed a dramatic decline in monarch butterfly populations. Share with your students digital video, audio, and newspaper clips that discuss this decline in population. Use the collection of monarch related resources accessible on the Teaching with Text Sets blog site to explore suspected causes for the decline of the species. This site includes a collection of texts that invite kids to take action to change our world, making a difference for threatened species.
Field Research. To write Handle with Care: An Unusual Butterfly Journey, author Loree Griffin Burns traveled along with Ellen Harasimowicz to conduct first hand research at El Bosque Nuevo. Visit Loree Griffin Burns’s wonderful website and click on the “Resources” link to read about Loree’s research trips for each of her books (Tracking Trash, The Hive Detectives, Citizen Scientists, and the forthcoming Beetle Busters). Discuss the process of field research including identifying questions, selecting research locations, documenting findings, and identifying new questions. If time allows, use Citizen Scientists as a launching point for students to design and conduct environmental field research in your community.
Genre Study: Photo Essay. Handle with Care: An Unusual Butterfly Journey is a beautifully crafted photo essay in which the author’s clearly written text is accompanied by fascinating photographs that play an equal role in conveying the story of butterfly farming at El Bosque Nuevo. Read Handle with Care along with other well crafted photo essays such as George Ancona’s It’s Our Garden: From Seeds to Harvest in a School Garden and Nic Bishop’s Frogs. Discuss the relationship between the photographs and the text on double page spreads, as well as aspects of the book’s layout and design, such as placement of the photographs, the use of white space, borders, and captions. Discuss, too, the inquiry processes used by authors and photographs to craft a photo essay. Photo essays often (although not always) involve first hand research and documentation. Using the photo essays you have studied as mentor texts, invite your students to plan, research, document, and craft a photo essay featuring your school or community.
Loree Griffin Burns: Author’s Website
Ellen Harasimowicz: Photographer
American Museum of Natural History: The Butterfly Conservatory
Boston Museum of Science: Butterfly Garden
Monarch Watch
North American Butterfly Association
Costa Rica: Entomological Supply
Arnosky, J. (2002). All about frogs. New York: Scholastic.
Bailer, D. (2011). How do tadpoles become frogs? New York: Marshall Cavendish.
Bishop, N. (2008). Frogs. New York: Scholastic.
Bishop, N. (2009). Butterflies and moths. New York: Scholastic.
Burns, L.G. (2012). Citizen scientists: Be a part of scientific discovery from your own backyard. New York: Henry Holt.
Frost, H. (2008). Monarch and milkweed. Ill. by. L. Gore. New York: Atheneum.
French, V. (2000). Growing frogs. Ill. by A. Bartlett. Cambridge, MA; Candlewick.
Hutts, D.A. (2011). A butterfly is patient. Ill. by S. Long. New York: Chronicle.
Kalman, B. (2002). Metamorphosis: Changing bodies. New York: Crabtree Publishers.
Kelly, I. (2007). It’s a butterfly’s life. New York: Holiday House.
Murawaski, D. (2007). Face to face with caterpillars. Washington, DC; National Geographic.
Simon, S. (2011). Butterflies. New York: Harper Collins.
Stewart, M. (2014). A place for butterflies. Ill. by H. Bond. Atlanta, GA.
Stewart, M. (2014). How does a caterpillar become a butterfly? And other questions about butterflies. Ill. by A. Patterson. New York: Sterling Children’s Books.

Erika Thulin Dawes About Erika Thulin Dawes

Erika is a professor of language and literacy at Lesley University. A former classroom teacher, reading specialist, and literacy supervisor, she now teaches courses in children’s literature, early literacy, and literacy methods. Erika is the co-author of Learning to Write with Purpose, Teaching with Text Sets, and Teaching to Complexity.


  1. Great post, thanks for sharing…