Dec 3, 2021

A BLUE RIBBON Picture Book: Caterpillar's Surprise!

 I'm always excited to learn that author JANET HALFMANN has a another book releasing. The range of subjects, formats, and approaches she has mastered is impressive (understatement here). As prolific and polished as her career has been, this is a banner year. Check my reactions to some of her releases from earlier in 2021 HERE, HERE, and HERE.


Halfmann is rounding out her stellar year with a colorful fiction picture book that is jam-packed with nature information about animal transformations spanning first days and weeks of life. 

CATERPILLAR'S SURPRISE is a sort of "coming of age" story for the younger set, incorporating a charming story, rhymed passages, and a friendship that wins the prize. Janet has shared some insights for this particular offering.

Tell us what this is all about, Janet.

JH: A masquerade ball with a blue ribbon! Caterpillar dreams of winning, but wonders how she can since she is just a baby. Tadpole convinces her that her natural baby disguise as bird poo is perfect. 

As Caterpillar grows, her look changes, and she worries again. Tadpole tells her she now looks like a scary snake, and is sure to win! Then . . . just weeks before the ball, Caterpillar spins a chrysalis and hangs unmoving from her tree. Now, even Tadpole (who is changing into a frog) is worried.

Will Caterpillar break out of her chrysalis in time? And if she makes it to the ball, will she still think winning is the most important thing of all?

SB: I know that your life is deeply immersed in family and nature, with those interests often overlapping. Did something specific inspire this story? 

JH: I was inspired to write this story about caterpillars and butterflies and metamorphosis after watching monarchs and tiger swallowtails and more flutter around our backyard. The more I studied butterflies and their amazing lives, the more enamored I became. Then after an editor read my butterfly story, she suggested that I add a frog and have the two grow up together. And so was born this story of a caterpillar and a tadpole who become friends and share adventures as they face big changes together.

As busy as I've been with CYBILS AWARDS reviews and discussions, I read her responses and knew this was a must read. That gorgeous and intriguing cover, by illustrator Emily Krueger clinched itI know I can rely on Halfmann to provide contents (fiction or nonfiction) with high readability, strong storylines, and surprises along the way, ones that make the project even more memorable. She didn't disappoint.

There is no shortage of butterfly picture books, but this one takes an unusual turn. As mentioned in the interview, this is not the largely familiar saga of a monarch. Instead it provides butterfly fans (and who isn't?) a closer look at the life cycle of a tiger swallowtail. The transformation stages add tension to caterpillar's quest for a blue ribbon, with a growing friendship between caterpillar and tadpole conveying stability and comfort for even the youngest audiences. Kids will also enjoy the big-eyed (bug-eyed) characters and short rhyming sections. A powerful emotional growth arc unfolds gradually, as caterpillar begins to value their friendship even more than a blue ribbon. Tadpole seems unable to keep a promise, but is determined to honor caterpillar's goal and step up on her behalf. 

Caterpillar's Surprise, Interior Image

I really enjoyed the kid-friendly approach of the images, language, and events, including skin shedding, being compared to bird poo, and getting sleepy. These details and more will effectively connect with young readers and tease curious ones into further searches and observations of nature. What kid won't want to investigate further about that chrysalis stage of soupy goo that somehow turns into an elegant butterfly?

I'm all in on this latest offering, and encourage everyone to take a look, especially if you love butterflies. Again, who doesn't? Halfmann's new book is available now at many brick and mortar and online booksellers, just in time for holiday gifting.


1 comment:

  1. Thanks so much for this wonderful review that captures the story so well. And I agree that Emily Krueger's art is just fantastic! Happy Reading to All!


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