Red Butterfly by A. L. Sonnichsen

Red Butterfly

A. L. Sonnichsen, Author

Amy June Bates, Illustrator

Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, Free Verse, Feb. 2, 2016

Suitable for Ages: 8-12

Themes: Abandonment, Abnormality, Adoption, Family relationships, China, Multicultural

Synopsis: Eleven-year-old Kara never met her birth mother. Abandoned as an infant in Tianjin, she was born with only two fingers on her right hand. She was taken into the home of an elderly American couple living in China. Her parents never tell authorities about finding Kara or try to formally adopt her, which leaves Kara without an identify. When papa’s teaching job is finished he returns to Montana.  Her mama remains because she can’t bear to part with Kara.

Much of Kara’s life is isolated to keep her safe. She has a daily routine that includes study, but doesn’t attend a Chinese school or have any friends. Her English is excellent, but she can’t read or write in Chinese. When her loud and overbearing American half-sister Jody comes for a visit and ends up in the hospital, the authorities are suspicious. They discover her mama’s visa expired and Kara’s is taken to an orphanage, where she is put up for adoption.

Why I like this book:

This is a complex and multi-layered story where Kara is the innocent victim of secrecy and poor choices made by her foster parents. A.L. Sonnichsen has written a deeply moving story about Kara learning to find her voice and discovering that love knows no boundaries. It is an emotional read.

Free verse is the perfect medium to share this story because it is told in Kara’s voice, which shows her confusion, desperation and loss. The language is beautifully executed, lyrical and carefully crafted with skill and a lot of depth. The story is beautifully paced and a quick read. Amy June Bates pen and ink  illustrations add a creative flare to the spare text.

The plot is courageous and complicated. A.L. Sonnichsen delves deeply into the loneliness of a pre-teen trying to make sense of her mother’s secretive behavior. When the walls crumble around Kara, she has to find her way forward. She begins to find her strength at the orphanage where she helps care for the abandoned children with disabilities. She learns to build trust with some compassionate souls who try to make things right for her.

I enjoyed learning that the author grew up in Hong Kong and spent eight years there as an adult, where she was visited many local orphanages. Her passion for the abandoned children became the inspiration for the story.  Chinese law is complicated and it took the author and her husband seven years to adopt their daughter from a Chinese orphanage. During that time she worked with an organization that worked to improve conditions in orphanages.

Resources: There is a beautiful Author’s Note that talks about her personal experiences in China, as well as the “fall-out” from China’s one-child policy. There is a Reading Group Guide at the end, which would be perfect for classroom discussions. Visit the author at her website.

Check other Middle Grade review links on author Shannon Messenger’s Marvelous Middle Grade Monday post.

About Patricia Tiltonhttps://childrensbooksheal.wordpress.comI want "Children's Books Heal" to be a resource for parents, grandparents, teachers and school counselors. My goal is to share books on a wide range of topics that have a healing impact on children who are facing challenges in their lives. If you are looking for good books on grief, autism, visual and hearing impairments, special needs, diversity, bullying, military families and social justice issues, you've come to the right place. I also share books that encourage art, imagination and creativity. I am always searching for those special gems to share with you. If you have a suggestion, please let me know.

24 thoughts on “Red Butterfly by A. L. Sonnichsen

  1. Great sounding plot. So many different emotional hardships thrown into the same story. I’ll add this one to my list of books to read although it may be summer before I get to it. Thanks for the review.


    • Yes, it is very close to reality. I didn’t realize that the story plot is not unusual. Many Americans have illegally fostered children only to have them taken away and adopted by other families. The child is the one who suffers.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I was thinking of her being abandoned as a baby, probably because she was a female and not perfect, as the darker side of the culture. It does sound like a very good story and I have put it on my TBR list.


      • There was also a one-child policy in China and couples will give up a daughter and not a son. It is illegal to abandon a baby, but it happens. I loved the story because I learned a lot.


  2. This sounds like a moving story. I think it’s great that the author wrote about something she was passionate about. I will add this to my TBR list. Thanks for your review!


  3. I love how these beautiful new books can teach our young readers about life outside of their ‘normal.’ Your review reminded me of a woman I met while tutoring special ed students. ‘Jean’ and her female partner flew to China and adopted a baby girl from one of the orphanages. The paper work and time entailed were incredible, but they succeeded so well that they repeated the action two years later and adopted another baby girl. Those two sisters grew up in a beautiful New England town and succeeded in school beyond expectations. The two moms saved their money, and when the sisters were teens, the four of them flew to China to see where they came from. Seeing the orphanage was extremely difficult for these two young girls. But it gave them a sense of what they were rescued from.


    • Thank you for sharing your friend’s story! I agree, it’s important that young readers have a sense of how children live in other cultures. It is a lengthy process to adopt from China. It took the author almost 7 years to adopt. She fostered her first before it was finally legalized. We adopted a 12-year-old boy from India in 1985, when there was an opening in the window before India stopped all adoptions. He’s a successful grown man now and has made two trips back to visit Pondicherry, but has no desire to find his family.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. My cousin was adopted from China, so I’m always glad to see more stories exploring this experience, which of course varies from child to child. My cousin was adopted as a baby, and is a young man now, and hasn’t shown much interested in his Chinese heritage so far, but of course he’s a teenager, and being a teenager has its own struggles and things to focus on, like getting into college! 🙂


    • Both my children are adopted. My son has no interest in finding his family in India, but has made two trips back there and stayed 6 months on both occasions. My daughter is the opposite. She’d like to know her roots and make contact.


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