We live in uncertain times; that’s the one certainty we have. And while, as adults, we tackle this uncertainty by “doing something,” it often feels that this tactic amounts to busy-work, staying afloat and consuming ourselves with small tasks. Children live much closer to the bone than this. Often, they can be left adrift, feeling alone and afraid. But…though a struggle still, they can also find it easier to find hope and comfort, even joy in the smallest of things.
SAVING THE BUTTERFLY
author: Helen Cooper
illustrator: Gill Smith
Walker Books (3 February 2022)
A small boy and his big sister were the only ones left in the boat. The sister thought we wouldn’t make it…but they did. They were rescued and given shelter. It was up to her now to see that they were safe. The little one didn’t remember very much…about home, the things that happened. He only remembered they were here now. As time when by, the little boy made friends easily; he grew strong and happy. But his big sister couldn’t forget and barely left the broken house. It felt safer in the dark, away from everyone…until one, the little one caught a butterfly and brought it back to her. His sister knows that she needs to set the butterfly free … but that would mean going outside. In taking the first steps to face her fears and save the butterfly.
This gentle, yet powerful story brings to light the plight of children caught in horrific situations; situations that are all too pertinent today, but that have been going on…almost forever. In its’ poignant, poetic text, we are given the depth of childrens’ feelings, the emotions generated by their circumstances. It is easy to see how children absorb the fear and terror of the greater world. How they could carry that anxiety forward into the rest of their lives; how we have done as grown-ups. But…and this is the most important “but,” we see how the smallest of things can hand us a huge lesson on how to go forward; to the joy we discover when we do. This is a story about love, survival, resilience, how to find strength and courage even when it seems long gone.
The illustrations shape the tale as loose, free watercolour flows and shifts, beautifully child-friendly it their depiction and filled with feeling. In the dark, dreary hues in the beginning, we still find the sparkle and brightness which grows gradually, page by page, seeping in to the images, drawing the big sister out from the darkness. Until we are surrounded by sparkle, light and brilliance. We find a path back into life…we find strength and courage. We find hope again.
This extraordinary, quiet book tells the story of what it’s like to be children and refugees left alone in the world. Fluid, exquisite both in its’ storytelling and illustrations, moving, freeing and hopeful. And with this story, the world begins to feel a little less uncertain.