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.
Cao Wenxuan is an award winning novelist from Jiangsu Province, China. He is the Vice President of the Beijing Writers’ Association and a professor at Peking University. His works include The Straw House, Dragonfly Eye, and Bronze and Sunflower. He was the first Chinese writer to be awarded the Hans Christian Andersen Award. His novels have been translated into eight languages.
Roger Mello is an award winning illustrator and author. He has illustrated over 100 titles, 22 of which he also wrote. His unique style and sense of color continues to push the boundaries of children’s book illustration. He was the first Latin American artist to be awarded the Hans Christian Andersen Award.
★ 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. One of a kind—an intriguing, sophisticated study in contrasts that reimagines the potential of picture-book art.
—Kirkus Starred Review
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. VERDICT With an abundance of lessons in a simple story—getting where you’re going, accepting where you are, seeing your surroundings from your own point of view, making mistakes, and going back to fix them—this title belongs alongside Feather, and will circulate among a similar demographic of thoughtful readers.