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The Picture Book Buzz

Butterfly for a King: Saving Hawai'i's Kamehameha Butterflies - Perfect Picture Book Friday #PPBF

Having participated for years in the Great Backyard Bird Count, the Christmas Bird Count, and the Feeder Watch Program - citizen science programs run by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society - I am always excited to learn about other citizen science programs. There are projects for kids and adults involving weather, turtles, coral, frogs, Monarch butterflies, plants, horseshoe crabs, Chesapeake Bay, and space (some can be found at

I couldn't wait to read this book when I learned it combined a citizen science butterfly project and Hawai'i! Especially one spurred on by a class of fifth graders. The Pulelehua Project, where citizens track and record data for the scientists about the Kamehameha Butterflies, began as a direct result of these kids wanting to name a state insect. This wonderful book follows the Hawai'ian community's efforts to save a unique butterfly.

Butterfly for a King: Saving Hawai'i's Kamehameha Butterflies

Author: Susan L. Roth & Cindy Trumbore

Illustrator: Susan L. Roth

Publisher: Lee & Low Books (2021)

Ages: 8-12



Saving Kamehameha butterflies, citizen science, and ecology.


The fascinating true story of a beautiful native Hawaiian butterfly, a great Hawaiian warrior king, and current-day efforts by scientists and citizens to restore the butterfly's declining population.

The beautiful Kamehameha butterfly lives in Hawaii and nowhere else on Earth. Named to honor the great king who united the Hawaiian Islands, the butterfly is one of only two species native to Hawaii.

After the Kamehameha butterfly became the state insect—thanks to a group of fifth graders—people noticed that the butterflies were disappearing. So a team of dedicated professional and citizen scientists began working together to restore the butterfly's natural habitat and reintroduce butterflies in places where they were once found.

From the Sibert Medal-winning team that created Parrots Over Puerto Rico comes another nature adventure. Discover the captivating story of the Kamehameha butterfly and the people all around Hawaii who are helping it survive.

Opening Lines:

A spiny caterpillar becomes a magnificent butterfly. The

butterfly lays eggs that become spiny caterpillars. The cycle

goes on and on. But what happens then the cycle is broken?

What if the butterflies start to disappear?

This is the story of a beautiful butterfly that lives in Hawai'i

and nowhere else on Earth. It is also the story of citizen science

in action, where ordinary people worked with scientists to help

save the butterfly.

And it all started with a bang.

Lava flowed . . .

and islands rose.

What I Liked about this book:

While the stated age range for this book is 8- 12, it's one of those exciting picture books which can appeal to multiple age ranges. And it is a great mentor text for doing just that. The lyrical, rhythmic main text and the bright, bold, cut paper collage images will appeal to the youngest of listeners (readers).

Text © Cindy Trumbore, 2021. Image © Susan L. Roth, 2021.

"Female Kamehameha butterflies lay their eggs

on the top or bottom of the leaves of certain trees

and branches. They choose only plants with leaves

that their caterpillars can eat."

While the expanded secondary text contains much more detail on the butterflies, ecology, science, history, and the reintroduction project itself. It also includes pronunciations for Hawai'ian words. Providing a deeper story for older elementary students, teachers, and parents.

Beginning with a spectacular spread and the formation of the Hawai'ian islands, Susan Roth and Cindy Trumbore quickly establish how the butterflies got to the islands and why they are named for King Kamehameha.

Text © Cindy Trumbore, 2021. Image © Susan L. Roth, 2021.

With a very interesting pattern, the last line of the lyrical text on each page is repeated as the first line of the next page. ("Lava flowed . . . and islands rose./Islands rose . . . and formed a chain."). And, as Cindy noted on Monday, it's written in a "loose trochaic meter," adding an element of poetry to the book as well.

I am in awe of Susan Roth's ability to create dramatic volcanoes, wispy sun rises, tiny delicate eggs (and their magnification), as well as people out of paper collage. The image of the kids petitioning Hawai'ian lawmakers to name the Kamehameha butterfly the Hawai'i state insect is amazing. Even more so when you see the original photo in the back matter.

Text © Cindy Trumbore, 2021. Image © Susan L. Roth, 2021.

These 6 fifth-graders decided Hawai'i needed a state insect. Their efforts and success in convincing lawmakers caused people to finally look around and realize that this special butterfly - who only lives in Hawai'i - was vanishing, due to invasive species and a loss of their favorite plants.

As a result of the kid's petition, the government, University of Hawai'i, and citizens teamed up to save these special butterflies. The book follows the project and the many discoveries that scientists made along the way. A fascinating 4-page afterword includes both a bit of history, the current status of the Kamehameha butterfly, instructions on participating in the ongoing citizen science project, and great photographs. An illustrator note, sources, and photography credits round out the back matter. This is a wonderful book for young kids fascinated by butterflies and for older kids studying ecological relationships, butterfly life cycles, and citizen science. Overall this is a wonderful book for any library and a treasure for butterfly lovers.


- make an origami butterfly. You could color or paint it to look like a Kamehameha butterfly (

© Red Ted Art

- do you know of an endangered animal that you'd like to help protect? Write a description, or draw an image, of your plan.

- read books about other citizen science projects, like Parrots Over Puerto Rico by Cindy Trumbore & Cindy Roth, Bird Count by Susan Edwards Richmond, illustrated by Stephanie Fizer Coleman, Bat Count by Anna Forester, illustrated by Susan Detwiler, and Follow the Moon Home by Philippe Cousteau and Deborah Hopkinson, illustrated by Meilo So. How and why did these projects get started? How can kids help with these projects?

If you missed it, be sure to check out Monday's joint interview with Cindy Kane Trumbore (here).

This post is part of a series by authors and KidLit bloggers called Perfect Picture Book Fridays. For more picture book suggestions see Susanna Leonard Hill's Perfect Picture Books.


Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

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