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Children's Literature Reviews
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The butterfly lion
Michael Morpurgo.
New York : Viking, 1997.
90 p. ; 22 cm.

Annotations:

Trying to run away from boarding school in England, a boy encounters an old woman who tells him the story of Bertie and his beautiful white lion.

Best Books:

Best Children's Books of the Year, 1998 ; Bank Street College of Education; United States

Awards, Honors, Prizes:

Smarties Book Prize, 1996 Gold Award Winner Ages 6-8 United Kingdom

State and Provincial Reading Lists:

Rebecca Caudill Young Readers' Book Award, 2000 ; Nominee; Illinois
Utah Children's Book Awards, 1999 ; Nominee; Children's Fiction; Utah

Reading Measurement Programs:


Lexile, MetaMetrics, Inc.
Lexile Measure 800

Reading Counts-Scholastic
Interest Level 3-5
Reading Level 5
Title Point Value 4
Lexile Measure 800

Reviews:

Kathleen Squires (Booklist, June 1 & 15, 1997 (Vol. 93, No. 19 & 20))
In this story within a story, readers listen along with a 10-year-old boy as a friendly old widow, Millie, tells about her dead husband, Bertie, who grew up in South Africa with a white lion as his pet and only friend. Devastated when his father sells the lion, Bertie vows to find the beast again one day. The story sounds hokey, but Morpurgo evocatively captures the South African landscape and presents young, lonely Bertie's heartbreak and his blossoming friendship and love for Millie with genuine emotion and tender poignancy. Eventually, a reunion does come after Bertie goes off to fight the war in France. When the lion finally dies, Bertie and Millie honor it by carving a monument that attracts beautiful blue butterflies. With just the right mix of tension and romance, this short, sophisticated novel will appeal especially to animal lovers. Category: Middle Readers. 1997, Viking, $14.99. Gr. 4-6.

Rebecca Joseph (Children's Literature)
In this lovely short novel, our young narrator, unhappy at his boarding school, tries to run away. He makes it as far as the neighboring estate where the mistress of the house tells him the story of another young man, Bertie, who tried to run away from the same school. Having grown up in South Africa, Bertie adopts an extraordinary white lion. After the death of Bertie's mother, the lion is sold to a circus and Bertie is sent to boarding school in England. While learning about how Bertie is reunited with his lion, our narrator himself learns that he should go back to school. Fantasy is mixed with reality in this beautiful story as people long dead come alive to help our young narrator return to school. 1996, Penguin, $14.99. Ages 6 up.

Jan Lieberman (Children's Literature)
This is a haunting, magical love story of a boy, the white lion cub he nurtures, and the girl the boy marries. It's about promises made and kept, the accidents of life, the people we meet, and the moments that change the direction of our lives. This is a story within a story. A boy runs away from boarding school in England, is discovered by an old woman who invites him into her home. Over tea and scones, she relates the story of her husband, Bertie, his life in Africa, and the meaning of the white lion sculpted into the hillside and of course, the butterflies. A ghost story? Perhaps. But it is the surprises in books that make reading such a joy. 1997, Viking, $14.99. Ages 8 to 11.

Kirkus (Kirkus Reviews, 1997)
A runaway schoolboy finds a magnificent monument to a magnificent animal in this ghost story, at once marvelous and matter-of-fact, from Morpurgo (Robin of Sherwood, 1996, etc.). The author casts himself as the ten-year-old narrator, whose attempt to run away from a miserable boarding-school existence ends in a dusty house, where a friendly old widow shows him a great lion cut into the chalk on a hillside--the butterfly lion. She tells him how it came to be there: Her Bertie, a lonely boy in South Africa, found and began to raise a white lion cub, tearfully saw it sold to a French circus owner, reclaimed it years later during the Great War, and brought it to England to live. When it died, Bertie spent the next 40 years carving its likeness on the hill. Astonishing in itself, the chalk lion becomes even moreso after a rain, when thousands of Adonis Blue butterflies gather on it. Urging him to come again, the old woman takes the boy back to school; only later does he learn that she died--as her husband did--years ago. This dreamlike story is suffused with a man's lifelong love for a rare, gentle animal friend. 1997, Viking, $14.99. © 1997 Kirkus Reviews/VNU eMedia, Inc. All rights reserved.

Publishers Weekly (Publishers Weekly)
Winner of a Smarties Gold Medal, Morpurgo's (The Wreck of the Zanzibar) cozy, well-executed British novel may not survive the jump across the ocean--the climax depends on a casual reference likely to be lost on American readers. The story, about a boy who gives his white lion immortality, moves gracefully through frequent switches from past to present, from first to third person, from the English countryside to pre-WWI South Africa. A boy runs away from his strict boarding school ("It was a diet of Latin and stew and rugby and detentions... and chilblains... and semolina pudding"), only to meet an old woman who invites him in for tea. There, fed delicious scones, he looks out the window upon the hillside to see a huge shape of a lion, switching from white to blue. How did it come to be there? The old woman tells him the remarkable story of Bertie, who as a boy found a white lion in Africa and was later obliged to give him to a European circus. Magic enters the novel at an appropriate moment, and the conclusion is sweet. But unless readers can picture "the famous White Horse on the hillside at Uffington" (an enormous, ancient image carved into chalky ground), they will have difficulty imagining an adult Bertie and his wife carving out a similar picture of the white lion or of blue butterflies alighting on it en masse to "drink on the chalk face"--concepts critical to the book's conclusion. Ages 8-12. (May)

Subjects:

Lion Fiction.
England Fiction.
LanguageCall NumberLCCNDewey DecimalISBN/ISSN
English (eng) PZ7.M82712 Bu 1997
96052797 [Fic]
0670874612
9780670874613
9780670874613
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