Skip to content


Today to celebrate Science Book Week let's have something very different: a giveaway contest for a book about some fascinating insects, Fireflies by Mary Rose Dunn.

Fireflies is a new nonfiction picture book written at the first grade level. It has huge full-color photographs of fireflies. The text covers the life cycle, what fireflies eat at different life stages, what eats fireflies, and where they are found. This book is part of the Nocturnal Animals series.

If you would like to try to win a copy of Fireflies, leave a comment on this post before next Wednesday, October 26, 2011 at 12:00 noon Mountain Standard Time. For a second entry in the contest, like the Growing With Science Facebook page (see right sidebar). Please leave a comment on this post first, however, with a valid email address so that I can contact you if you are the winner. The winner will be selected at random. The easiest way to leave a comment is to click on the title of the post to send it to a separate page and then scroll to the bottom.

The contest is now closed.

Do you see fireflies glowing at night where you live?

For more information, try this previous Bug of the Week post about fireflies.

Fireflies by Mary Rose Dunn

Reading level: Ages 4-8
Paperback: 24 pages
Publisher: Capstone Press (August 1, 2011)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1429671203
ISBN-13: 978-1429671200

For our science books today, let's take a look at two nonfiction picture books about butterflies, Grow Your Own Butterfly Farm by John Malam and Monarch Butterfly's Journey by Suzanne Buckingham Slade and illustrated by Susan Swan.

Both of these book caught our eye because of the brilliant monarch butterflies on the cover. Right now the monarchs are migrating, and what better way to learn about it than reading a good book? Monarch Butterfly's Journey starts out with the life cycle of the monarch butterfly, chronicling the stages of metamorphosis. Once the adult butterfly emerges from the chrysalis, it feeds on nectar to get ready for the long journey ahead. Soon fall arrives and the monarchs head off on their long migration to Mexico. In the spring, the butterflies head north again. In the backmatter is a one page summary of the journey.

The illustrations are bright mixed-media collages by Susan Swan. I am not a huge fan of collage art in children's books that tries for ultra-realism, but Swan's butterflies are an example of how it should be done. They are fascinating and fun, with a high level of energy. I love the humorous side comments of the insects which make comments in their own cartoon bubbles. One butterfly asks, "Are we there yet?"

Grow Your Own Butterfly Farm by John Malam takes another tack, presenting the butterflies with food in the form of flowering plants so you can enjoy them in your own yard. This book starts with some facts, such as what butterflies are, what wildflowers are, and why we need butterflies. There are simple instructions for planting wildflowers and starting a garden to attract butterflies. (Oddly, on pages 16 and 17, there's a section about how cats and birds do damage to newly planted gardens and how to keep them out of your seed beds. Because any animal can do damage to a garden, including dogs, goats and chickens, I'm wondering why cats were singled out?) At the end, the author suggests letting the plants go to seed for next year's crop.

This book is illustrated with large color photographs with a lot of pretty butterflies and flowers. It is designed to be read by the child, so the sentences are short and it has simple vocabulary words with a glossary. It is a cute book to inspire youngsters to become butterfly gardeners.

If you have a young child interested in insects or if you are doing a unit on butterflies, you should take a look at these books.

Grow Your Own Butterfly Farm by John Malam

Reading level: Ages 4-8
Paperback: 32 pages
Publisher: Heinemann-Raintree (August 1, 2011)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1432951165
ISBN-13: 978-1432951160

Monarch Butterfly's Journey by Suzanne Buckingham Slade and illustrated by Susan Swan

Reading level: Ages 4-8
Paperback: 24 pages
Publisher: Picture Window Books (August 1, 2011)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1404870296
ISBN-13: 978-1404870291

These books were provided by the publisher for review purposes.


This weekend we were inspired by an absolutely gorgeous new picture book, A Butterfly Is Patient by Dianna Hutts Aston and illustrated by Sylvia Long. (See review at Wrapped In Foil.)

Aston and Long have collaborated on two other wonderful books, A Egg is Quiet and A Seed is Sleepy. If you are familiar with those books, you will know to expect extraordinary illustrations and accurate, age-appropriate information written in lyrical text. In this book all about butterflies, they have outdone even themselves. A Butterfly Is Patient is definitely inspiring!

Activities to learn more about butterflies:

1. Study Caterpillar and Butterfly Anatomy

Have you ever spent time actually studying the parts of a caterpillar or butterfly? I know, it may be hard to look past the bright colors and beauty, but studying how these animals go together helps you appreciate them in a different way.

Try to find a smooth caterpillar like this tobacco hornworm (some of the fuzzy or spiky ones have stinging hairs, so don't pick up those.) Gently coax it onto a leaf or stem where you can observe it with a hand lens. See if you can find the following organs and structures.

In this side view of a moth caterpillar, we can see the thorax (the three segments right behind the head), and the abdomen quite clearly. The thorax is where we find the six true legs, which are the identifying characteristics of insects. What are those fleshy appendages on the abdomen, aren't those legs? From a scientific perspective, those are not true legs, but are called prolegs. They are used for walking and clinging to leaves just like legs, but they lack the joints of a true leg.  As you will see, the adult will have only the true legs.

The small circles on the sides of the caterpillar are spiracles, the openings through the insect's exoskeleton that allow it to take in air.

In this view, we can see the caterpillar's head. At the bottom of the head are the mandibles, the pruning scissor-like jaws that it uses to cut food. Slightly above and to the side of the jaws are the ocelli, which are simple eye spots. The caterpillar probably doesn't see much with those tiny spots, maybe only whether it is light or dark out. This photograph shows a better view of the jointed legs.

After the caterpillar transforms into a pupa and then a butterfly, we see different structures.

What a transformation!

Instead of tiny ocelli on its head, the butterfly has large compound eyes. The mouth has become a long tube for sucking nectar from flowers (some butterflies actually lack a mouth altogether). There were antennal buds on the head of the caterpillar, but now the butterfly has full blown antennae.

The true legs are long and delicate and the prolegs are gone. Attached to the thorax are the wings. If you read a book about how to identify butterflies, it will probably describe markings on the upper or forewings, or the lower hind wings. The raised structures in the wings, called wing veins, are also important for identification.

Can you find the mouthparts and the spiracles on this giant swallowtail butterfly?

Activity 2. Butterfly Life Cycle

Butterflies go through a complex series of changes during the life cycle, a process called complete metamorphosis.

Let's explore the life cycle of the queen butterfly, and then make a poster.

The queen butterfly starts out life as an egg laid by the female butterfly on a milkweed plant.

A caterpillar emerges from the egg, and begins to feed on the plant.

When it has reached its full size, the caterpillar transforms into a chrysalis.

After a week or so, out comes the adult butterfly.

Use this information to prepare a butterfly life cycle poster, perhaps like this one from Enchanted Learning.

For more photographs, try these related posts:

Activity 3. Raise a butterfly or moth

At some point in their childhood, most budding scientists raise a caterpillar to find out what it turns out to be.

  • You might want to start with silkworms, which can be raised on an artificial diet or mulberry leaves.
  • Learn the ins and outs of raising caterpillars.

Activity 4. Make a colorful coffee filter butterfly craft here at Growing With Science

Activity 5. Butterfly gardening

It is amazing that you can bring butterflies into your yard by planting a few special plants. You can then watch the life cycles in a more natural setting.

Some butterfly favorite plants are:

  • milkweeds (monarchs, queens)
  • lantana
  • butterfly bush
  • ageratum (attracts male queen butterflies)
  • dill, fennel or parsley (swallowtails)
  • hollyhocks (painted lady)
  • passion flower (fritillaries)

For more ideas, see our  butterfly gardening post.

Monarch Watch has lesson plans, a ton of information about monarchs, and ideas for more activities.

And don't forget to read some books about butterflies, including the gorgeous A Butterfly Is Patient by Dianna Hutts Aston :

(Affiliate links go to Amazon, this book was provided for review purposes)

Plus, our growing list of books about butterflies and moths at Science Books for Kids.


As well as Aston and Long's other lovely books, A Seed Is Sleepy and

An Egg Is Quiet