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An Extraordinary Life

An Extraordinary Life Pringle, Laurence. 1997. An extraordinary life: The story of a monarch butterfly. Ill. by Bob Marstall. New York: Orchard Books. ISBN: 0531300021.

In this informative and surprisingly entertaining book, Laurence Pringle tells the life story of Danaus, a monarch butterfly. His story begins with Danaus's birth and follows her flight south through America and into Mexico. The story then tells of her return to America where she lays her eggs before her life cycle is complete.

Pringle writes in an easygoing style that tells his narrative while seamlessly instructing the reader on the many details of the life of a monarch butterfly. Pringle is able to make these details a part of the story so that they are integral to the plot and therefore do not seem forced or out of place. Phelan comments on this in her review for Booklist when she states, "Rather than giving the usual survey of the habits, habitat, life cycle, and predators of butterflies, Pringle brings immediacy to his subject by focusing sharply on one monarch, whom he names Danaus." For example, on pages 16 and 17, Pringle explains the complex process of a caterpillars metamorphosis by bringing it to life through Danaus's story. He tells of the minutiae of the process by placing them in context, such as when Danaus must get her cremaster into place so that she can continue her metamorphosis: "Still head down and sightless, Danaus used her muscles to twist the cremaster up around her old skin. She pushed it up toward the stem. There! She felt the knob hook on to the silk! For a moment she swiveled violently, driving more of the cremaster's hooks into the mat. Then she stopped moving. The walls of her chrysalis slowly hardened around her." (Pringle, p.17) Pringle is adept at describing the life of a butterfly in such a way that a non-scientist will understand without feeling as if Pringle is condescending. New vocabulary and terminology are presented in context and at the appropriate point in the text so that readers are able to digest it without being overwhelmed.

Marstall's detailed and colorful paintings complement and extend the text. The action and adventure of Danaus's journey is portrayed through double page spreads, single page paintings, and sidebars. The paintings in the margins with sidebar text are especially useful in comprehension as they illustrate the concepts being discussed on the page.

This well organized book is divided into six chapters. Each of the first four are titled with an appropriate caption that tells the part of Danaus's life that will be covered, such as "To a Mountain in Mexico." (Pringle, p.39) The last two chapters discuss conservation issues affecting the butterflies and how to raise monarchs. An extensive list of further reading and a comprehensive index are included. Also helpful are maps throughout the book which show the path Danaus takes on her journey. Although the extensive research and attention to accuracy are self-evident in the text, the acknowledgments at the front of the book written by the author and illustrator further show their attention to the research through their list of contacts and discussion of their trip to follow the path of the monarchs into Mexico.

This book will change the way readers view monarchs as they flit and flutter through our field of vision each year. This book will be a valuable asset to any library or class collection, and it will further serve to ignite interest and invite further research or hands-on activities.

Phelan, Carolyn. 1997. Book reviews. Booklist 93(14). In Books in Print (database online). Available from http://www.booksinprint.com.  Accessed 21 April 2005.

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