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Isabel's House of Butterflies

Overview

Outside her home in Michoacan, Mexico, grows eight-year-old Isabel's greatest treasure: an oyamel tree. Here, every autumn, a miracle happens-- for Isabel's tree is the wintering place for thousands upon thousands of monarch butterflies that migrate from the north. When they flutter down to roost, they transform Isabel's tree into La casa de las mariposas-- The House of Butterflies.

But this wonder is in danger of disappearing forever. Isabel's family is poor, and it has been a ...

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Overview

Outside her home in Michoacan, Mexico, grows eight-year-old Isabel's greatest treasure: an oyamel tree. Here, every autumn, a miracle happens-- for Isabel's tree is the wintering place for thousands upon thousands of monarch butterflies that migrate from the north. When they flutter down to roost, they transform Isabel's tree into La casa de las mariposas-- The House of Butterflies.

But this wonder is in danger of disappearing forever. Isabel's family is poor, and it has been a cruel, dry year for Papa's meager crop of corn and beans. Soon, chopping down the tree to sell its wood may be the family's only hope for survival. And what will happen to the butterflies then?

Tony Johnston's poignant tale, as brief and luminous as the lives of the butterflies themselves, is all the more compelling because of the real-life dilemma it presents. Lush paintings by Susan Guevara radiate with the warmth and tenderness between Isabel and her family, and capture Mexican rural life in all its vibrant color and natural beauty.

Tony Johnston is the author of more than one hundred highly praised books for young readers, including Desert Song, illustrated by Ed Young, and Desert Dog, with paintings by Robert Weatherford -- both published by Sierra Club Books for Children. Tony has a strong connection both to Mexico, where she lived for fifteen years, and to monarch butterflies, which she raised as a child. "Once I forgot a batch of chrysalises," she says, "and when I returned from a trip, my house was full of butterflies!" Tony now makes her home in San Marino, California.

Susan Guevara has illustrated many books for children and has twice won the American Library Association's prestigious Pura Belpre Award. She was also the recipient of the first Tomas Rivera Award. To research this book, Susan traveled to the mountains of Michoacan, Mexico, at the time of the monarch butterfly migration and was amazed by what she saw. "There were so many butterflies," she says, "I could actually hear their wings fluttering! I think that's how wishes would sound if we could hear them." Susan lives in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California.

Eight-year-old Isabel hopes that her plan will spare her favorite tree, keep the butterflies coming, and provide an income for her poor family in Mexico.

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Editorial Reviews

Children's Literature
Isabel loves the oyamel tree that grows outside the window of her small mountain home in Michoacan, Mexico. It is especially beautiful when the monarch butterflies rest there during their annual migrations. In autumn the butterflies are everywhere and the townspeople rejoice in their beauty. But many oyamel trees are being cut down. The people are poor and when the rains do not come, the crops do not grow and money is scarce. Isabel's father may have to cut the tree in their yard and sell it for firewood. Everyone in the family has a sad heart. Then a plan flutters into Isabel's mind as though coming on butterfly wings. She and her mother could set up a small stand to sell tortillas to the tourists who come to see the monarchs. Perhaps they will make enough money to save the tree. Colorful paintings depict the beautiful countryside, Isabel's loving family, and the prolific butterflies. Based on an actual place and the real threat to these trees, this book conveys a poignant message. 2003, Sierra Club, Ages 5 to 10.
—Phyllis Kennemer, Ph.D.
School Library Journal
K-Gr 3-In Michoacan, Mexico, one particular 300-square-mile area provides a natural sanctuary for monarch butterflies, but due to logging the trees are disappearing. Removal of habitat equals removal of species, and this sparely told story puts the links between climate, habitat, and poverty into stark focus. Eight-year-old Isabel and her family have one treasure: an oyamel tree where every fall thousands of monarchs come to winter. They love the tree, but one year a long, hot summer is followed by an equally long, hot fall. Her father, a subsistence farmer, cannot make ends meet, not even with help from the tourists who come to see the butterflies. He decides he must cut down the tree and sell the wood. In her distress, the girl comes up with an idea: selling fresh tortillas in the shape of butterflies to the tourists. The book ends on this note of suspense. Will the idea work? Will the tree be saved? Similar in tone to Lynne Cherry's The Great Kapok Tree (Harcourt, 1990), this discussion starter gives a nod to global warming and raises the uncomfortable truth that sometimes the survival of people means the destruction of the environment. Guevara's heavily framed, textured paintings in somber tones still communicate the delight Isabel takes in her world. A thought-provoking introduction to problems that affect all of us.-Ann Welton, Grant Elementary School, Tacoma, WA Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Eight-year-old Isabel, who lives in a small impoverished village in the mountains of Michoacán, Mexico, tells the story of the annual monarch butterfly migration to the magnificent oyamel tree beside her casita. When the butterflies arrive, they are everywhere, and bring joy and tourists with their much-needed money. Isabel’s mother calls them "un milagro"--a miracle. But the butterflies and the trees where they roost are in danger from commercial loggers, and from the villagers who are sometimes forced to sell the trees for firewood. When Isabel overhears her father saying he must chop down their tree (because ". . . we cannot eat butterflies") she comes up with a plan she hopes will save them. Guevara, whose research took her to Mexico, shows butterflies everywhere in richly colored paintings bordered by heavily textured frames. Undeniably didactic, the story highlights the economic and cultural complexities of preserving endangered species, and provides a welcome complement to the many other books on monarch migration. (Picture book. 6-8)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781578051281
  • Publisher: Sierra Club Books for Children
  • Publication date: 9/23/2005
  • Pages: 32
  • Sales rank: 626,463
  • Age range: 4 - 8 Years
  • Product dimensions: 8.02 (w) x 10.16 (h) x 0.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Tony Johnston is the author of more than one hundred books for young readers, including Desert Song and Desert Dog. Tony's work has received high praise from reviewers and garnered many prestigious awards. She lives in San Marino, California.

Susan Guevara has illustrated many books for children and has twice won the American Library Association's prestigious Pura Belpré Award. She was also the recipient of the first Tomas Rivera Award. She lives in Soda Springs, California.

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Read an Excerpt

I am Isabel. I am eight. And I have my very own tree. An oyamel. It grows outside the window, like a green church touching the sky. I call it La casa de las mariposas, The House of Butterflies.

Where I live, in Mexico, in the mountains, many oyameles grow. Sometimes, when people are hungry, they chop them down to sell the wood. But we could never do that. In the autumn, butterflies come to roost in my tree.

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