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U.S.A. Popcorn Adventure #8
May 16, 2007

Winged Wonder

The Butterfly + Butterfly Garden

Collecting is a human instinct: from Beanie Babies and iTunes songs to photographs for the living room walls, we all gather beloved things and keep them near. The Butterfly is an iridescent gem of a French film about Elsa, a nine-year old girl, and her unlikely friendship with Julien, an old man who collects butterflies. Without telling her mother, Elsa sneaks along on Julian's excursion to collect a rare butterfly that only will live for three days. Elsa's motivation has nothing to do with butterflies; rather, she is desperate to get her mother's attention. What begins as an uneasy intergenerational alliance ends with two kindred souls watching a chrysalis blossom into an exquisite butterfly. The kids thought this film was sweet and as adults we loved its message that taking time to cherish life -- whether watching a butterfly emerge or saying "I love you" -- makes every day difficulties take flight.

Watching a butterfly flutter through the backyard is a sure sign that spring has sprung. We thought we'd celebrate the season by treating our kids to some real magic at our local butterfly garden. When we entered the indoor pavilion, home to species from all over the world, our kids flitted among the sunlit paths, chasing after creatures awash in tropical color. After learning from the docents that touching the butterflies removes scales from their wings, the kids stopped trying to catch them and just stood still. To their delight, butterflies landed on their heads and sleeves. On the advice of the friendly docents, we stopped in at a separate exhibit that featured live caterpillars, cocoons, and chrysalides as well as the most spectacular sight of all: the daily release of newly emerged butterflies. As the butterflies took to the air, we felt a surge of joy from witnessing the start of one of nature's most fragile life cycles.

Film Title: The Butterfly
Directed By: Philippe Muyl
2003, Rated U, 80 minutes

Our Buttery Bits of Wisdom about this film:

  • Why this Film is Worth It: We love discovering a great little film for family viewing. The cranky relationship between Elsa and Julien is intriguing because it is so real. The old man is annoyed with her; the little girl is confused about life but somehow they know they need each other. The kids love it because they sense the veracity of the characters, and we love it because the story unwinds at a leisurely pace. The final scene, in which the butterfly comes out of the cocoon, is classic.
  • Who Should Watch: Fine for kids over eight who can read subtitles. There is not a lot of dialogue, so kids can easily follow along.
  • Red Flags: Elsa stows away in the car with Julien, but there's nothing untoward that takes place. Elsa's mother leaves her alone for stretches of time, including overnights. Elsa climbs into a cave in the mountains and has to be rescued near the end of the story. She isn't injured, or really even that scared.

Our tips for talking to your kids about this film:
  • Cinema Savvy: Foreign films tend to treat relationships in a more subtle, less sappy manner. Can you think of a studio film that pairs an old man and a little girl or boy, and compare it to the relationship between Julien and Elsa?
  • Gourmet Savvy:  Ask your kids to guess which type of pasta is named for butterflies.  The answer?  Farfalle, derived from the Italian name for butterfly, farfalla.


Explore a Butterfly Garden

Time Allotment: About an hour, depending on the size of the garden
Age Recommendation: Stroller babes and up


Our Buttery Bits of Wisdom about this adventure:

  • What Worked for Us: We let our kids scatter. The pavilion was small enough so we could hear their elated cries of "look at that blue one," and "there goes a huge orange one," so we felt comfortable letting them pursue the chase on their own. We followed behind reading the plaques with names and facts.
  • Before You Go: Check your garden's website for information about special exhibits or releases. Some centers even require reservations. Explain that butterflies are very comfortable in their habitat and with people, so it's quite common for the butterflies to land right on your shoulder or arm.
  • Tips for Convincing Butterflies to Land on You: Remind your kids that butterflies are fragile, and that they need the scales on their wings to live as long as possible. That said, if a butterfly chooses to land on your child, that's great. Butterfly lore has it that kids should find a sunny spot where there are butterflies about and stay still. Some claim that wearing bright colors, like florescent yellow or pink, attract the winged wonders. But no touching!
  • Take Advantage of the Exhibit: Even though it's lots of fun, don't spend all your time chasing butterflies. Most centers, or even small outdoor gardens, have an exhibit showcasing the stages of a butterfly's life. Larger indoor gardens usually have observation areas where you can view live caterpillars, cocoons, and chrysalides. We were lucky enough to see a new butterfly emerge from it's chrysalis right before our eyes, just like in the movie.
  • The Release: Indoor gardens usually have a daily release of newly emerged butterflies. Check the website of the garden for release times. Watching these new butterflies scatter into the air is magical.

Our City Editors' tips for enjoying the Popcorn Adventure around the USA:

  • Anywhere: Google butterfly garden + your city, or search butterflies, butterfly garden on your city's zoo, science or natural history museum's website.  The Butterfly Website is a great resource and includes a list of butterfly gardens and exhibits by state.
  • Boston: Due to weather constraints, butterfly gardens in and around Boston are hard to find. It just so happens the Museum of Science has installed a butterfly garden to welcome spring. Be warned it is small, and one must have reservations to experience the rush of wings and flood of colors from a variety of worldwide species.
  • Chicago: The aptly named Butterfly Haven in the Notebaert Nature Museum is sure to charm you as much as your children. When you enter this enormous greenhouse, you’re greeted by hundreds of butterflies fluttering through tropical trees and flowers. You’ll find that 75 species are included—exotic butterflies with a six-inch wingspan mingle with the familiar Monarch butterflies you’re likely to find in your backyard.
  • Houston: With an exhibit showcasing hundreds of live butterflies in a naturalistic rainforest setting, The Cockrell Butterfly Center, located in the Houston Museum of Natural Science is a fun family outing. Come see 50 to 60 different species of the world’s largest and most colorful butterflies, flying through the balmy air, hovering over flowers, sipping fruit juice, and occasionally landing on the visitors!  Hurry, exhibit closes May 18th.
  • New York: Catch the Butterfly Exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History before they flutter by (closes May 28th, purchase tickets in advance). The Bronx Zoo has a Butterfly Garden in a 5,000 square foot green house with over 1,000 North American butterflies (and other bugs). Peek into the conservatory's nursery to see how the insects are cared for, learn about their role in our ecosystem and perhaps, become inspired to grow your own garden to attract butterflies! (Open daily 10-5 Mon-Fri and 5:30 on weekends and holidays).
  • Washington, DC: The Smithsonian Butterfly Habitat Garden is an outdoor home to hundreds of native butterflies (located on the Ninth St. side of the Museum of Natural History).  The National Zoo's Pollinarium is home to butterflies, hummingbirds, and colorful flowering plants. During the summer, there's an outdoor garden frequented by monarch butterflies.
  • San Francisco:  A great butterfly adventure in the city is a visit to the San Francisco Botanical Gardens.  Stop at the information booth at the main gate to ask for recommendations for that day.  Fun areas with great potential for butterfly viewing are the Children's area and the California area. Click here to see the map on the website.  Bring good walking shoes, some snacks, eager eyes and patience!

Our suggestions for extending this Popcorn Adventure at home: 
  • The Butterfly Garden kit is one of our favorite toys. Your kids can watch a chrysallis grow into a butterfly.
  • Inspired by the big butterfly gardens, or can't find one near your home?  Let the butterflies come to you! Plant a garden that will attract butterflies in your own backyard.  The Butterfly Website has a great guide that includes different types of plants and which butterflies they attract.

Want more? Here are KOTC's picks of films, books, music, and websites that connect your family to more culture.

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