Often when an author makes a children’s picture book based on a memory he or she had, the result falls flat. It’s hard to convey sometimes the significance and specialness of an event in a way that complete strangers (and young strangers to boot) will appreciate. In the picture book world, there are exceptions to this of course. Authors like Allen Say or Barbara Cooney for example, both excel at making lovely stories out of personal memories.
Sandra Markle’s Butterfly Tree is a book in this vein. The text, though not rhyming, is written in stanzas and the fuzzy (oil paint?) illustrations give the book a somber tone and set a thoughtful pace. The story is about a girl witnessing a giant migration of monarch butterflies: it looks like it’s raining black pepper from a clear blue sky. She is confused and frightened at first as she and her mother go to investigate in the woods. All her senses seem heightened as she goes through the trees noticing things until suddenly An explosion of golden-orange bits fills the sunlight streaming between the branches.