This is a modern day fable about a 11-year-old boy named John Farrington whose life path is permanently altered by a strange encounter with a rabble (large group) of Monarch butterflies that cover the side of his house while they rest during their migration journey.
John has the unique ability to communicate with this species. They ask John for help, telling him they've lost the path that they usually follow to their home, a green meadow.
John surmises that they mean the meadow that he knows is being destroyed by bulldozers for a construction project. So he thinks of another meadow that they might use. The butterflies ask him to lead them there and he finds he is able to transform into a butterfly to do so.
He guides them there through the sky and enjoys being with them in their weedy wilderness until he recalls that his parents will surely miss him and worry. Even though the Monarchs ask him to stay, he tells them he simply can't disregard his parents' love for him. So they "reverse- metamorphose" him to turn him back into a boy. Now he must walk a very long way home--because he can no longer fly.
The same thing happened twice more in other springtimes. Each time, John led them to a new habitat. Then, when he was 17, the rabble no longer appeared. John wondered what had happened to them and he was full of worry.
He studied butterflies in college but could not bring himself to collect and pin them in display cases. So he turned to public service, getting elected to the US Congress and passing legislation to protect the Monarch butterflies' migration path and resting sites so they wouldn't become extinct.
One day, when John was old and couldn't walk anymore, he was sitting outside in his wheelchair. Suddenly, they returned! A rabble of Monarch butterflies began to surround him. They helped him to regain his wings, and to fly away with them forever. The wheelchair in John's yard is empty now. And John is filled with joy.
While the author reminds us that there is no actual person named John Farrington and that the story itself is a fantasy, it is also a science story--a fable--that teaches us a lesson. Monarch butterflies really do migrate, just like birds do. Some rabbles of Monarchs migrate for over 2,000 miles between August and October, flying from Canada and the USA to overwinter along the Southern California coast or the trans-volcanic mountains of central Mexico. This was determined by the Canadian scientist named Dr. Fred A. Urquhart in 1975. Females lay their eggs along the migratory route. This migration takes up to three generations of Monarchs to complete, while other Monarchs stay in one area during their entire lives.
This story about this slightly older boy and his interest and empathy for Monarch butterflies shows how one's knowledge of and feelings for nature, even at an early age, can sometimes alter a child's entire life--helping set career goals and aspirations.
Author Coville and illustrator Clapp tell this fable through engaging, well-integrated text and vivid watercolor illustrations featuring powerful colors and engaging lighting. Clapp's images have a carefully crafted depth of focus, and each one is either magnetically inviting or natural-mood-evocative. Although butterflies cannot talk, they can benefit from youths' informed environmental education and ecological stewardship.
We think this book can motivate young readers to investigate butterflies in their yard and their garden, as well as at their local library, museum, and park. We humans only want to save what we observe and understand. This book's co-creators have given us a book that is not only inspiring, but also the kind of story that helps children drift off to sleep thinking happy thoughts and contemplating the greater meaning of natural wonders. Science and fantasy DO mix!