The Mystery of the Monarchs by Barb Rosenstock, illustrated by Erika Meza

The Mystery of the Monarchs: How Kids, Teachers, and Butterfly Fans Helped Ned and Norah Urquhart Track the Great Monarch Migration by Barb Rosenstock,  illustrated by Erika Meza. Alfred A. Knopf, 2022. 9781984829566

Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 5

Format: Hardcover picture book

What did you like about the book?  Who doesn’t love a mystery? In this engaging and beautifully illustrated science picture book, young readers will meet Ned and Norah Urquhart, the single-minded entomologists who diligently gathered data to answer the question of where monarchs went when they disappeared from Canada every fall. The story opens in Toronto, with Ned developing an interest in butterflies as a young child and then traces his path as he becomes scientist, marries Norah, attempts to create a workable tag for the tiny insects, and finally, hatches the idea for a citizen scientist army to track the mysterious migration. This is not a brief story but one that unfolded over decades with a large cast of characters, including the eventual involvement of Catalina Aguado and Ken Brugger, who in 1975 finally identified the forest west of Mexico City that housed the monarchs, and the many teachers, students, and scout troops who participated in tracking. Meza’s lively and detailed gouache and pencil illustrations show the passage of time, the map that Norah kept updated with sightings, and children in Canada, the U.S., and Mexico involved in hands-on research. An author’s note explains that the people of Central Mexico knew about the butterflies’ winter home and details ongoing threats to monarchs while an illustrator’s note reveals her roots in Michoacán, Mexico and the region’s commitment to ecotourism and preservation. Also included: a photo-diagram of the monarch’s life cycle, a map of their migration patterns, a spotlight on one school’s participation in research, notes on monarch citizen science programs, and a bibliography.

Anything you didn’t like about it? I was initially confused about the dates the book covered and thought this could easily have been remedied by including year in the first few pages. Ned Urquhart was born in 1911; although adult readers may have been able to identify the time period as the early 20th century from clothing or hairstyles, young readers would need more concrete information.

To whom would you recommend this book?  A relevant read aloud option for classes in grades 1-5 studying butterflies or embarking on a citizen scientist project. With its detailed description of a research project that had to address multiple challenges and collect data over a long period of time, it’s also an inspiring example of the scientific method and the persistence needed to solve problems. Also, just a great butterfly book that expands on the larva-pupa-adult life cycle story.

Who should buy this book? Elementary schools and public libraries

Where would you shelve it? Nonfiction 595.789

Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? Yes

Reviewer: Susan Harari, Keefe Library, Boston Latin School, Boston, MA

Date of review: July 2, 2022

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