Much like the metamorphosis of his title character, author-illustrator Ross Burach is gearing up for another career milestone with the release of Make Way for Butterfly on April 18 from Scholastic Press. The fourth title in his picture book series, which has close to two million copies in print, follows the continuing saga of the caterpillar-turned-butterfly and his essential role in the ecosystem’s development, while teaching young readers the value of self-discovery and self-appreciation.
Learning to Fly
Maintaining the momentum of Butterfly’s journey was a must for Burach, who was encouraged by his inquisitive readers to keep writing. “Oftentimes when I visit schools, students ask me what happens next to Butterfly,” he told PW. “Their curiosity and love for this character have inspired me to continue the series.” While each book in the collection—The Very Impatient Caterpillar, The Little Butterfly That Could and Goodnight, Butterfly—stands alone, they purposefully follow the life cycle of this insect. Make Way for Butterfly brings the series full circle by expanding on the existing storyline, sharing fun facts about pollinators and incorporating social-emotional themes into classroom lessons.
Naturally curious, Burach makes a point of researching animals and the natural world to spark potential story ideas. Upon learning that some species of caterpillars remain in their cocoons up to eight months before emerging, he was prompted to craft his newfound knowledge into a story about patience. “The classic ‘Are we there yet?’ line just became ‘Am I a butterfly yet?,’ ” he said. “The caterpillar stuck in a chrysalis was just a kid stuck in the back of the car.” Real life also intervened while writing this story when Burach became a first-time parent—a role that he feels puts patience to the ultimate test.
Burach’s books straddle the line between educational and entertaining, and Make Way for Butterfly is no exception. Even when incorporating informative details into his stories, he is careful to introduce them at the appropriate spots—or not at all. “I have a rule that I don’t inject a fun fact if it derails the story,” he explained. “The information has to flow seamlessly within the dialogue or story arc, or I don’t use it, no matter how amazing it is.” He cited the moment when Butterfly realizes that ants, not butterflies, can carry 50 times their own weight and how he waited to work this information into the series. “Here it works perfectly because it leads to Butterfly learning not to try to be someone he’s not, and to love who he is, which is one of the book’s messages,” he said.
Science lessons aren’t the only teachable moments; Burach stresses the content’s social-emotional learning quotient, which educators and librarians can use as an everyday resource. They can also refer to the story’s role of pollinators in the ecosystem to supplement their Earth Day curriculum.
Graduating to Grown-up
Readers might expect that this book marks the final chapter for Butterfly, but, Burach hints, not so fast. He admitted that each stage of his main character’s development has led him into another intriguing area of study. “So while this [book] rounds out the quartet, who knows what amazing fact I might learn next?,” he mused.
In the meantime, like a proud parent, Burach can sit back and bask in the glow of his “child” who is growing up. In fact, he believes that Butterfly’s insistence that he knows everything, when he really doesn’t, is what makes him so relatable—and so familiar. “It’s okay, even brave, to admit you don’t know something and to ask for help when you need it,” he said. “Butterfly is that kid—learning, stubborn and embarrassed—but then, when they finally do ask for help, they discover it’s an important part of growing up.”