Red Butterfly – a book review

I’m back!

It’s been way too long since I last posted on this blog. My apologies! In the Spring, we moved back from Texas to Bloomington, Indiana with all the chaos of packing, unpacking and getting settled in our new home – a process that many of you are familiar with and can relate to. I hope to get back to posting on a more regular basis. Thank you for all your patience with book orders during the summer and fall. Today, I wanted to share with you an amazing book that your children will enjoy:

Red Butterfly by A.L. Sonnichsen

(for ages 8-12)

I snuggled up last night on the couch with a steaming cup of peppermint tea and read in one sitting Red Butterfly. Wow! what a well-written and moving story! Written in verse with black and white illustrations by Amy June Bates (love, love, love her illustrations in I will Rejoice by Karma Wilson), this is the story of a young Chinese girl, abandoned at birth and raised in secret by an elderly American woman in a small apartment in Tianjin, China. Kara, now eleven, wonders why they rarely leave the apartment, why they can’t move back to Montana where her dad lives, and why she can’t go to school like all the other children in her building. When her sister visits and is suddenly taken ill and rushed to the hospital, Kara’s world begins to unravel and she is torn from the only family she has even known.

What I loved about this book:

This is a must-read for third culture kids – although Kara is Chinese, she was raised in China by an American. She knows what it feels like to straddle two cultures. Kara loves to ride her ruby-red bike around town on errands, she says:

“..when I am alone,

Pedaling my ruby-red bicycle

No one knows I am different,

That I have an American mother,

That even though I look Chinese,

I’m American on the inside”

Kara yearns for a “normal” life, yearns to belong- the heart yearnings of many third culture kids. I love that Sonnichen through Kara puts all those yearnings into words for the reader.

As a third culture kid, your child will be able to relate to the many aspects of American life and culture that Kara encounters for the first time when she arrives in the US.

Most of the story takes place in China. It is obvious that China is dear to the author’s heart. In the novel, a physical therapist working at the orphanage returns after visiting other parts of China. He shows his photos to the children. He tells Kara:

China never does anything by halves…

I try to figure out what he means

without asking him,

but then he starts a list:

Great Wall

Forbidden City

Three Gorges Dam

Terracotta Warriors

He counts them off on his fingers.

China is an amazing country…

You ought to be proud of your country, Kara.”

I love the imagery of the red bicycle and the red butterfly in this novel. To me, the bicycle symbolizes Kara’s desire to be in control and make her own decisions in the midst of all the chaos and uncertainty. I think it also symbolizes her desire to not be confined to one geographical place. She wanted to be able to live with her adoptive family, and yet be able to hop on her bike and visit her mother who raised her whenever she wanted to.

I appreciated diving in with Kara and experiencing the range of emotions that Kara felt in different situations – anger, fear, confusion, isolation, disappointment, guilt – all those emotions swirling together as they often do, sometimes colliding with one another, as she is confronted with all the changes in her life.

About the author:

A.L. Sonnichsen grew up in Hong Kong and then spent eight years as an adult in China. She now lives in Washington State with her husband and five children.

I highly recommend Red Butterfly by A.L. Sonnichsen. A moving story that will linger in your heart long after the book comes to a close. I think this book would also make a great read-aloud. Don’t miss this one! I’m looking forward to reading more books by this third-culture kid author.

Reviews

With spare, fluid language, [Sonnichsen] creates the endearing, authentic, nuanced emotions of a girl stuck between two worlds and brings to light a foundling’s hope and determination. An adoption story that’s rich in family complexities and that readers won’t abandon.” – Kirkus Reviews, STARRED REVIEW

Readers everywhere will empathize with and root for Kara as she discovers where she belongs and her true home.”

– School Library Journal

Awards

• ALA Notable Children’s Book

• Arnold Adoff Poetry Award

• Kansas State Reading Circle List Starred Intermediate Title

• Keystone to Reading Secondary Reading List (PA)

• NCTE Notable Verse Novel List

• Washington State Book Award Winner

• Wisconsin State Reading Association’s Reading List

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