To Come and Go Like Magic by Katie Pickard Fawcett

I’ve had an *interesting* week, to say the least.  So when I opened a packed from Random House and saw a book with monarch butterflies on the cover, it was like it was meant to be.  The book had not even been on my radar, but I settled in to read it.

Told in a series of vignettes, To Come and Go Like Magic is the story of twelve-year-old Chili Sue Mahoney. Growing up in 1970’s Kentucky in Appalachia country, Chili dreams of growing up and getting out. Her family and friends can’t understand why she would want to leave home but Chili can’t understand why they won’t let her. But when Miss Matlock is brought in as the new 7th grade substitute teacher, Chili and her friend Willie Bright are both excited. Miss Matlock has traveled around the globe. Town gossips can’t understand she’s come back to the town she grew up in after all this time. Both children are forbidden to befriend her but eagerly start spending time at her house, despite the rumors. As the three spend time together, Chili learns about the world outside Appalachia- rain forests, jungles, foreign lands. But Miss Matlock also teaches her that there’s more to Mercy Hill, Kentucky than Chili gives it credit for: there is beauty all over Mercy Hill, in the most unexpected places.

The vignette style serves this book well. The story flows well without seeming disjointed. At the same time, the reader is able to move through time with Chili without getting bogged down in mundane details. The vignettes reminded me a lot of The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros. Both focus on a different culture and share the stories through small stories. While Appalachia isn’t a different “culture” for some, it is drastically different from the environment of my students.

There was only one point that bugged me in the story, and most likely no one else will notice. The time period is given as 1970’s Kentucky. However, Miss Matlock tells Chili about the monarch butterfly migration to Mexico. It wasn’t until 1976 that Dr. Fred Urquhart published his findings of the monarch migration in National Geographic. I guess the story could take place in the late 1970’s, but that small detail nagged at me throughout the book. Most people didn’t know about the migration to Mexico until well after the 1970’s and the actual location wasn’t shared by Dr. Urquhart until many years later.

Regardless of the monarch connection (a very small one), this was a great story and one I look forward to recommending to my students.

*Review copy courtesy of publisher

Heartbreaking News from the Monarch Bioreserves

In February 2008, I was privileged enough to travel to Michoacan, Mexico where I visited the monarch butterfly bioreserves with the Monarch Teacher Network.  (Check out my posts from the trip here.)  Right now, a group of friends and teachers is in Mexico where they should be visiting the reserves.  Instead, they are sitting in a hotel in Mexico City, trying to plan their next move.

On Friday, after extreme rainfall across central Mexico, a devastating flood struck the small mountain town of Angangueo in Michoacan. The rain lasted  for over two days and was the heaviest rainfall in over 25 years, according to authorities.
Angangueo is located directly in between two of the monarch reserves and the people there are amazing.  Due to the floods, many homes and lives have been lost.  To make matters worse, much of the mountain forests have been illegally logged, so there have been a great many mudslides in the area of El Rosario.

I can’t imagine what it is like there right now.  The government has declared Angangueo a disaster area and most of the people in the area have been evacuated to other towns. The roads into and out of the area, and up the mountain to the sanctuaries, have been damaged extensively by landslides. According to some eyewitnesses there, the road to El Rosario is impassable.  There has been very little news about the monarchs in the reserves (which pales in comparison to the human lives, of course).  But this year’s monarch population is one of the lowest in years according to scientists, at only 1.92 hectares.

This news video contains footage of Angangueo during the evacuation:
http://www.hechos.tv/estados/confirman-6-muertos-por-lluvias-en-michoacan/v/17714 (thanks to Journey North for the link)

Visiting Michoacan was a life-changing experience.  A few pictures from my trip can hardly capture the magic of the region, but it is the least I can do.  This is getting little to no media coverage in the US.  My heart is breaking for the amazing people who care for the monarch butterflies over the winter months and the losses they have suffered.  They are a resilient people, but I am keeping them in my prayers.

A hotel in Angangueo

Some children on their way to school in Angangueo


The view from the parking lot at El Rosario.  Supposedly the road is completely destroyed.

The path up the mountain at El Rosario.  A river of monarchs.

One of the restaurants run by the local people at El Rosario


A local Purepechuan women at El Rosario

The road, laid by hand by the local people, that is supposedly impassable now due to mudslides

I worry that homes like these are flooded or wiped out by mudslides

Oyamel forests like this one, at Sierra Chincua, have been illegally clearcut, resulting in the mudslides.

More information on the floods can be found here.

Monarch Enrichment Class

I spent the last few days working on the curriculum for my enrichment class.  This year each teacher will teach a 30 minute enrichment period on a topic they are passionate about.  I love the idea and am thrilled to delve deeper into the monarchs with my classes!  I will teach the class 4 times, to a different class each marking period.

I decided to focus a lot on the area of Mexico where the Monarchs migrate.  That means looking at the Aztecs and Mayans, modern-day Michoacan, and the monarch’s effects on the culture.  I’ve come up with a rough outline of the class, seen below.

Meso-American Books for Kids?

I need your help!  This year I will be teaching an enrichment course based on monarch butterflies.  One of my focuses will be the Meso-American cultures in central Mexico, where the monarchs migrate. I am looking for great kid’s books(picture book to YA)about Aztecs, Mayans,Purepechua, etc.  In other words, I need fiction or non-fiction books about Meso-American cultures in Mexico.  So far I have found the following, but I need more!

 

I am interested in books that look at these cultures in the past and now.  I am especially looking for some chapter books/novels.  Any ideas?

Adios Oscar! A Butterfly Fable by Peter Elwell

Anytime I see a new monarch butterfly book I get excited, so when I received a review copy of Adios, Oscar!: A Butterfly Fable from Scholastic, I was very happy. Even better? This isn’t your typical monarch migration story. It’s a new twist on the topic and it is great!

Oscar is a caterpillar who lives on a plant near a window. One day a monarch butterfly named Bob happens upon his plant. Bob is in an awful rush and tells Oscar to look him up when he gets to Mexico someday. Well, Oscar is just enamored with Bob, his gorgeous orange-and-black wings, and this talk of Mexico. When a bookworm named Edna decides to help Oscar learn about Mexico in preparation for his journey, he is ecstatic. Soon it is time for him to go into his pupa phase before emerging as a butterfly.

Or so he thinks.

Oscar is heartbroken when he emerges from his cocoon and discovers he has short grey wings instead of the gorgeous orange-and-black ones he anticipated. And instead of the urge to fly to Mexico, he has the urge to eat sweaters! And fly around a light! Oscar’s friends all mock him for the time he spent learning Spanish and Mexican culture, and he is heartbroken. But that all changes when he finds a note Edna left behind for him.

I loved this fable about a moth who believes he can do anything, even fly 2000 miles to Mexico. And Elwell sprinkles Spanish phrases throughout the book. He also includes an afterword with some information on monarchs and moths and the differences between the two. The illustrations are also adorable, in a great cartoon style. I can’t wait to share this with my class and the Monarch Teacher Network!

Tonight PBS will be airing a documentary on NOVA that follows the monarch butterflies to their overwintering grounds in Mexico. Last February I was extremely privileged to visit the sanctuaries in Michoacan and it was a life-changing experience. The NOVA website has a wonderful page dedicated to The Incredible Journey of the Monarch Butterfly. It will air at 8pm tonight. I highly recommend taking a look at it!

Stenhouse Blog

A few weeks ago, I was asked to write a post for the Stenhouse blog about raising monarch butterflies in the classroom.  Well, that post has now been published.  Be sure to check it out!  

 

 

(There seems to be a formatting issue, as one of the paragraphs repeats in the middle of another, but you can get the gist.)

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