Saving the Butterfly

Saving the Butterfly
Helen Cooper and Gill Smith
Walker Books

This is a timely and very moving story about trauma, the way different people respond to it, empathy and the possibility of recovery.

Two children, a big sister and her small brother are rescued from a boat adrift on the dark sea; they’ve lost everything. The younger one remembers little of his ordeal whereas his sister appears more resourceful, talking to rescuers and being instrumental in finding them shelter in a broken house.

However, while she remains inside dwelling on what’s gone before, her little brother ventures outdoors and begins to make friends.

Feeling greatly concerned about what to do to help shift that ‘dark in her mind’ the boy, keen to coax his sister outside, catches a beautiful butterfly and brings in back to their refuge.

The girl upsets him by telling him to release the tiny thing that begins hitting its wings against the walls. It needs space and it needs time, she tells the boy. The boy goes out again; his sister counts the colours of the butterfly’s wings to calm her breathing. Eventually the girl opens the door; the butterfly settles on her hand. She steps out and blows the tiny thing. Can she now find the courage to follow the butterfly as it takes flight towards the sun where it belongs?

Helen Cooper’s heartfelt telling shows how, in their own ways, the siblings help one another to begin to move forward after such a life-changing ordeal. To me the blackness of the sea at the start represents their loss and the butterfly symbolises transcendence of that dark fearful state. Equally poignant, Gill Smith’s stunningly beautiful illustrations perfectly capture the feelings of the siblings in those early stages of rebuilding their lives.

Every primary school classroom needs a copy of this one.

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