Butterflies Are Pretty …Gross!
Butterflies Are Pretty …Gross!
Some butterflies are gross. They eat rotten food. They land on moldy fruit and slurp up the juices. They also eat dead animals—the slimier, the better!
One would be hard-pressed to find people who do not agree that butterflies are pretty. That is quite obvious. What is not so obvious is that butterflies can also be pretty gross. Although it is intended for young readers, Rosemary Mosco and Jacob Souva’s playful but enlightening book, Butterflies are Pretty …Gross!, is one that will appeal to a wide audience. As the title suggests, the focus in this book is not on the vibrant colours, fluttering flight, or intricate patterning one normally thinks of when the mind goes to butterflies. Rather, Mosco and Souva’s focus is on less-well-known and, arguably, less desirable butterfly characteristics. “Some butterflies eat poop,” the text reads on one page. Elsewhere, it says, “Some butterflies have butts that look like heads.” Elsewhere again, “Some caterpillars are stinky.” Each of these somewhat surprising assertions is supported with further explanation. That said, this is an introductory text designed for young children. What it does well, however, is inspire interest and pique curiosity so that children might go looking elsewhere for even more information about butterflies, moths, and caterpillars.
In this book, the truth is fascinating but sometimes extremely unexpected. “Butterflies are complicated,” Mosco states. Her text is not complicated though. It is easy to read and to follow. The book provides an interesting introduction that will have some people thinking of butterflies in a different way. Mosco’s written text is informative, playful, and humorous. For instance, the reader is told that butterflies taste food with their feet. A mother butterfly will taste a leaf before laying her eggs upon that leaf, thus ensuring offspring have a good food supply when they hatch. This inspires Mosco to wonder if perhaps a human mother should put her feet in a child’s breakfast cereal before the child eats it. “No, thank you,” I hear young readers exclaiming.
Souva’s illustrations were digitally created. They are colourful and fun. In this respect, they complement the overall tone of Mosco’s written text. However, I think the illustrations are ill-suited for a book intended to convey the idea that there is more to butterflies than meets the eye. The illustrations are inaccurately rendered. Frankly, the creatures in the illustrations do not look like butterflies. Realistic paintings—or, better yet, photographs—would have served the purpose of juxtaposing the beauty of butterflies against some of their less beautiful behaviours. To be clear, there is much to like about the colour, texture, and whimsy of Souva’s illustrations. As indicated, the tone of the artwork matches the tone of the written text. I just believe the purpose of Butterflies Are Pretty …Gross! would be more powerfully achieved if the illustrations provided a contrast to the written text.
Dr. Gregory Bryan is a member of the Faculty of Education at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg. He specialises in literature for children.