Yellow Butterfly: A Story from Ukraine

Red Comet. Jan. 2023. 72p. Tr $21.99. ISBN 9781636550640.
K-Gr 4–Shatokhin, a Ukrainian artist, wordlessly shares a message of hope and perseverance amidst devastation. A powerful opening shows shades of charcoal black, revealing themselves through a widening perspective to be rows of barbed wire. Among these a child discovers a yellow butterfly, the first appearance of color into the book. Together they visit the sites of war: a crater where a playground once stood, a missile in place of a tree. The child’s grief and anger overwhelm her. As she shoves the missile out of the earth, a spray of butterflies erupts from the hole and fills the sky. Now sky blue and yellow (the shades of the national flag) wash across the pages in a prophecy of what is yet to come when the war is over. This culminates in the mass of butterflies breaking the barbed wire and transforming into the shape of a stork, the national bird of Ukraine. The illustrations are striking, depicting the lifelessness of a land ravaged by war, until it blossoms into a burst of color, the swarm of butterflies seeming to rise off the page. The child is paper-white and often shown in silhouette. To supplement the somewhat abstract visual story, a brief author’s note speaks of faith and hope for the restoration of normalcy in Ukraine. Additional back matter offers practical suggestions for sharing a wordless picture book and slightly less useful advice for giving children “facts and context that is age-appropriate” without providing any such context. Without this, some adults may struggle to provide adequate scaffolding to the powerful illustrations.
VERDICT A beautiful and heartbreaking tribute to the resiliency of people in wartime; with support from adults, children will gain perspective on the need for hope under hardship.

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