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An Extraordinary Life: The Story of a Monarch Butterfly

The Story Behind the Book

This book's beginnings lie in a 1993 talk with Harold Underdown, then an editor at Orchard. We both admired the books of Holling Clancy Holling, such as Minn of the Mississippi, which is about a snapping turtle but is much more than that. It is rich with connections to other life, history, geography, geology. We wanted to create a shorter, simpler book with some of that same richness. I considered several creatures. (For ease of painting, artist Bob Marstall campaigned for a whale or a bird!). Monarch butterflies, with their amazing migration in North America, seemed the most intriquing to me.

I chose to tell the story of one individual monarch, because I felt this would lure the reader along on the journey. An Extraordinary Life is nonfiction, yet has a character you care about as you follow her death-defying story. Some of the information woven into the story, or revealed in sidebars, was so fresh that it had yet to be published in scientific journals. After reading a lot of scientific research on monarchs, I called leading researchers to get the most up-to-date information. Lincoln Brower, considered the world's foremost authority on monarchs, was very helpful. If he didn't have an answer to a question, he suggested other scientists in the United States or Canada. While I didn't actually need to visit a monarch winter colony in order to write the book, I leaped at the chance to go to Mexico with artist Bob Marstall. This experience enabled me to add a special detail: that the fluttering of countless butterfly wings makes a noise like the breeze in the forest.

Although the book was published several years ago, I continue to be deeply touched by monarch butterflies. I've planted butterfly bushes whose flowers provide food for migrators. And wherever I am in the fall--looking out my office window, driving a car, fishing on an ocean shore--my heart leaps when I see that familiar orange and black creature: a monarch trying its best to have an extraordinary life.

For more information about monarchs, their migration,
and conservation, visit the site of Monarch Watch:
http.//www.monarchwatch.org