A lemon butterfly is searching for the most beautiful thing in the world—a field of flowers. Through barren wilds, across a wide river, and over a bald mountain the butterfly continues the search until its final miraculous transformation.
A solitary journey in pursuit of an idyllic vision transforms the life of a butterfly.
From the outset, this read-aloud presents dynamic text-illustration interplay that defies a singular or straightforward narrative. As the words introduce the protagonist’s “vivid colors,” the picture shows only the lemon butterfly’s silhouette, cut out in paper white against a vermilion background. The use of negative space continues throughout the book, suggesting other dimensions—perhaps expansive, possibly emotive—into which viewers have a peek. Wildly divergent illustrations tantalize: A feast of colors, shapes, styles, abstractions, and perspectives invites viewers to linger over each double-page spread as a unique composition and ponder the visual narrative belying the printed text. What compels the protagonist to leave lush, verdant, surroundings and the company of other butterflies for some other “field of flowers”? Does the lemon butterfly feel a pang of regret when encountering the “barren wilds,” depicted as powerful, interlocking black lines angled against a stark white background? Why are hints of human presence visible in the absence of textual reference to people? Is the white horse significant beyond its role as messenger and guide? What is the message? This edition is translated from a Chinese text, and the twist at the end of this tale appears added for the English version, satisfying Western story-arc conventions through a creative reinterpretation and altogether surprising conclusion. (This book was reviewed digitally with 11.375-by-18-inch double-page spreads viewed at actual size.)
One of a kind—an intriguing, sophisticated study in contrasts that reimagines the potential of picture-book art. (Picture book. 4-9)
A Lemon Butterfly searches for a field of flowers through real and imagined landscapes. When it finally finds the flowers, they are inaccessible; the field is flooded and the flowers hover beneath the surface. Try as it may, Lemon Butterfly cannot breach the watery barrier, and in its acquiescence to that reality, transforms into a Lemon Butterfly Fish. Cao’s story of destiny and determination, told mostly in short graceful couplets, reiterates the theme of his earlier collaboration with Mello, Feather, including the search for one’s place, the drive forward without self-awareness, ending with acceptance of life’s mystery. Mello’s images follow his own interpretation of the Lemon Butterfly’s experience. The barren wilderness it flies over is depicted as a black and white Escher-like series of line-drawn folds and steps. That spread is followed by a thickly painted still life perceived by the butterfly as a river, and a tree with branches. Some pages offer negative space and the flash of yellow butterfly against a plain background becomes a surprise and a reminder.—School Library Journal, reviewed by Lisa Lehmuller, Paul Cuffee Maritime Charter Sch., Providence