#WorldKidLit Wednesday: Yellow Butterfly

My library colleagues and I are big proponents of wordless picture books. They are accessible to readers no matter their age, literacy level, or primary language. They impart vital narrative skills, and are ideal for practicing dialogic reading with young children. Wordless books are not less than for their lack of text; they are important books that deserve inclusion in libraries and in classrooms, and like all picture books, are appropriate for all readers.

Published last year by Old Lion Publishing House and now available in an English language edition from Red Comet Press, Yellow Butterfly is a powerful wordless picture book from Ukraine. Written and illustrated by Ukrainian born artist Oleksandr Shatokhin, it is a heart-rending response to the lived experience of military invasion and war.

Dark colored pages pan out to reveal barbed wire, behind which a child looks out. The barbed wire becomes an enormous menacing spider, and it gives chase. The child flees, but trips and falls. She covers her face with her fingers, but through them sees a yellow butterfly. She follows the butterfly through a war-torn landscape: a fence, a crater, and downed missiles. Wherever the yellow butterfly passes, the landscape is transformed: the crater becomes a playground full of happy children, and a downed missile becomes a tree being climbed by a friendly kitten.

One yellow butterfly becomes hundreds, and they swirl and swoop around the child, becoming a pair of wings on her back, The yellow butterfly is a symbol of hope, shining even in the midst of darkness. The hundreds of yellow butterflies blot out the barbed wire and now fly against a blue sky, representing the longing of the Ukrainian people for peace and freedom.

Translated by Marta Sakhno, this English language edition includes an author’s note and back matter with information about sharing wordless picture books with children and having conversations around war, terrorism, and violence. These resources make Yellow Butterfly a very worthwhile addition to libraries and classroom curricula. For example, in the upper elementary/primary grades and above it can be used in an unit discussing the ongoing war in the Ukraine.

Taking into consideration the current climate of book bans and challenges in the United States, it is incumbent on me to state that the protagonist is unclothed throughout the book. There is absolutely nothing graphic about the illustrations, however. Nothing in them is anatomically graphic or specific, nor are there are any anatomical markers on the child. The child is naked because war strips its victims of everything, and the lack of clothing signifies this.

Parents and caregivers can read Yellow Butterfly as a springboard to their own conversations about war. Yes, it is a difficult topic. As the back matter points out, however, there are “children around the world are living in or trying to escape from conflict situations,” War—and all its attending trauma, violence, and grief—is something no one should have to endure. But we yet persist in waging war upon one another, and children bear so much of it.

Children may very well have questions about what they see on the news, or about what the adults around them are discussing. Or they may have questions about a new classmate; for example, since the start of the Russian led invasion, over 271,000 Ukrainian refugees have entered the United States. It serves no one to refuse (at the bare minimum) to listen to children and sit with their questions. We may not have the answers, but we can ponder and imagine a new world together.

Title:  Yellow Butterfly: A Story from Ukraine

Written and illustrated by Oleksandr Shatokhin

Translated from Ukrainian by Marta Sakhno

Red Comet Press, 2023

Originally published 2022, Vydavnytstvo Stahoro Leva (The Old Lion Publishing House)

ISBN: 978-1-6365-506-40

You can purchase this book here.*

Find this book at a library.

Reviews: Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, Manhattan Book Review, Foreword Reviews, Booklist

*Book purchases made via our affiliate link may earn GLLI a small commission at no cost to you.

Klem-Marí Cajigas has been with Nashville Public Library since 2012, after more than a decade of academic training in Religious Studies and Ministry. As the Family Literacy Coordinator for Bringing Books to Life!, Nashville Public Library’s award-winning early literacy outreach program, she delivers family literacy workshops to a diverse range of local communities. In recognition of her work, she was named a 2021 Library Journal “Mover and Shaker.” Born in Puerto Rico, Klem-Marí is bilingual, bicultural, and proudly Boricua.

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