Red Butterfly is a beautiful and heartbreaking story in fluid verse. It is written by A.L. Sonnichsen who lived in Hong Kong as a child and then in China for a period of time as an adult. There are wonderful black and white illustrations throughout which enhance the book. It is also a great choice, like Inside Out and Back Again by Thannha Lai, to introduce reluctant verse readers to the accessibility of the form.

Red Butterfly is the story of Kara who lives in poverty in Tianjin with Mama, her mother. Kara had been abandoned as an infant. Mama took her in but never legally adopted her and also did not have a valid visa to remain in China. Leaving would mean leaving Kara forever. When a series of events, leads to the detention and deportation of Mama, Kara’s world is turned upside down. 

This is a poignant book that I both want to share with my daughter, who was adopted but would hesitate to do so until she is ready. For children who also come from complicated backgrounds, learning that Kara was uprooted from Mama could be traumatizing because the emotional resonance that the author creates is so rooted in realism. 

The descriptions of China and the portrayal of Kara who is neither wholly Chinese because of her upbringing nor American because of her circumstances is something very relatable. This is a story about learning to find your way in a complex world of uncertainty and learning to open your heart to love. But ultimately, it is a book that is filled with hope. 

Red Butterfly

Written by A.L. Sonnichsen

Illustrated by Amy June Bates

Age Range: 8 – 12

Publisher: Simon & Schuster