cover image The Butterfly Boy

The Butterfly Boy

Laurence Yep. Farrar Straus Giroux, $16 (1pp) ISBN 978-0-374-31003-5

Drawn from the writings of Chuang Tzu, the fourth-century B.C. thinker sometimes called the Butterfly Philosopher, this delicate prose poem tells of ``a boy who dreamed he was a butterfly and, as a butterfly, he always dreamed he was a boy.'' Though the boy endures the laughter of others as he tries to suck nectar from flowers and finds beauty in stagnant water, he is heaped with praise after he fails to bow before a marauding warlord (who reminds the boy of a beetle on its back). Yet the dreamy boy cares little for the world's opinion, for he is happy as he is. Yep's simple language is exquisite in its clarity and, like a pebble thrown into water, creates ripples of meaning. A similar ethereal sensibility graces Lee's paintings. Mottled backgrounds capture the story's ephemeral essence while the somewhat stylized figures are drawn with the care of a calligrapher. Details of the boy's butterfly visions are highlighted in sumptuously colored boxes superimposed, cartouche-like, upon the page, like patterns on a kimono. Quiet strength and inner serenity pervade this masterly combination of text, artwork and design. Ages 4-8. (Sept.)