A Thousand White Butterflies

 

authors: Jessica Betancourt-Perez and Karen Lynn Williams

illustrator: Gina Maldonado Charlesbridge, 2001 

preschool-grade two (Colombian)


It is snowing outside. A young girl, wearing an orange sweater and brown braids with matching orange hair ties, rests her elbow on the windowsill. Next to her is a hot taza de café to keep her warm. She is looking out at the reader, deep in thought, imagining her first day of school in this new country. On the outside, another young girl—a red-haired white child with eyeglasses—holding a snowball and bundled up in cap, coat and boots, glances at her and walks by. 


Young readers will learn that the girl’s name is Isabella and she has immigrated here with her mom. The two are staying with Abuelita, while Papa waits in Colombia for permission to travel. Today is Isabella’s first day of school in the United States, and her excitement is palpable. Until it starts to snow—“Mariposa wings dance in the sky. It looks like a thousand white butterflies”—and school is cancelled for the day.


Isabella narrates the story in English, and speaks Spanish in dialogue with her family. Without clunky translations that often litter children’s books, both languages here are accessible to young readers, who will easily understand who’s speaking and what they’re saying.


For instance, 


“¡Levántate!” Abuelita calls.

But I am already awake.


Maldonado’s digitally-colored illustrations, textured with crayons and acrylic paint, are excellent. Family members—Isabella, Mama, Papa and Abuelita—have varying brown complexions and hair colors and textures from curly to straight. The other children are shown as a mixture of ethnicities, both darker- and lighter-complected. And in comparison, everyone contrasts with the weather forecaster on TV—a blonde-blonde, whose skin is ghostly-pale. 


Although school has been canceled for the day, Isabella makes a new friend—a pale-faced red-haired English-speaker with eyeglasses (the girl who walked by her on the cover) who shows her how to make snow angels. “I don’t know all her words,” Isabella narrates, “but I understand enough.” 


That evening, Isabella draws a picture to send to her Papa: it shows herself and her new friend and their “snowman with its smile the colors of Abuelita’s beads.” When Papa calls her she says that she will tell him that “La nieve es hermosa.”


“Tengo una nueva amiga,” I whisper in the dark.

Tomorrow I’ll go to school. With my new friend.


The back matter contains authors’ notes, “more info” about immigrants and refugees, and a glossary of Spanish words. Sharing a page is an illustration of Isabella and her new friend at school. They are both smiling, and Isabella waves to the young readers.


A Thousand White Butterflies is highly, highly recommended.


—Beverly Slapin

(published 6/26/2021)


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