The Fantastic Travels of William and the Monarch Butterfly, Christina Steiner’s newest children book with illustrations from Mary Manning, focuses on the incredible life of the fourth generation, eastern Monarch butterfly.
Steiner’s chapter book, a fantasy story, offers a look into the lives of Monarch butterflies through the eyes of William. When William captures a butterfly for a show-and-tell at his school, he has no idea how special his trophy will become. Much to his surprise, the captive girl butterfly, Anka, is able to speak. With a sad, trembling voice, Anka, pleads for freedom so she may fulfill her life destiny. Worried to show up at school empty handed, William resists her pleas. But clever Anka bargains for her freedom by enticing William to accompany her as a passenger on a fantastic journey. There is one catch, though: William has to shrink in size and become a miniature boy in order to ride on Anka’s back.
William faces a dilemma. Should he set Anka free and show up at school empty handed? Or should he join this girl butterfly on an adventure to an unknown destination?
Intrigued, he agrees to join Anka on her special trip. Whisked away on the wings of a butterfly, a whole new world unfolds for William. Together, he and Anka soar south-southwest from North Dakota to the Oyamel fir forests in central Mexico. A strong friendship develops as they depend on each other for survival.
They stay for five month at their destination high up in the mountains of central Mexico – the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve. There, William learns much about Monarch butterflies, about survival, and about himself. But most notably, it is during their return travels in the spring that the true purpose for Anka’s urgency for freedom reveals itself. It is then that William personally witnesses nearly the full life-cycle of Monarch butterflies – from egg to caterpillar to chrysalis to stunning Monarch butterfly, the ultimate tale of the circle of life.
The ten chapters in this book are meant to encourage children to appreciate nature and the wonderful gifts it offers. The easy format and descriptive prose, with illustrations by Mary Manning, are sure to entertain young readers while simultaneously helping them learn about the life-cycle of the Monarch butterfly. Steiner did extensive research into the subject through books, films, and the internet, and engaged the help of a Monarch expert to clarify and authenticate the butterfly’s life within the fantasy. Because this book is an early-reader chapter book, the focus is solely on William and Anka as the main characters. During their 6,000-mile round-trip through Middle America and part of Mexico, they experience the beauty of nature and the interdependency of environment and humans. Sage Anka helps William grow and look at the world in a new way.
This book is about relationships, trust, joy, and sadness but also about nature and geography. A flight on the wings of a Monarch butterfly will delight the young and the young at heart alike.
Review: What an amazing adventure! Not only is this book thoroughly entertaining, but it is full of wonderful facts about the world around us, the meaning of names and places, and the understanding of culture and tradition.
I won’t repeat what’s already mentioned in the synopsis, but I will add that as we travel with William and Anka from N. Dakota to the enchanted forest in Central Mexico, we learn not only about the life-cycle, but also about acceptance of what life is about and the acceptance of life and death as part of the natural cycle of things.
Through the eyes of a child, I would be totally engrossed in the weaving of this most memorable tale. It’s the kind of story a likes to read again and again.