Where Butterflies Fill the Sky: A Story of Immigration, Family, and Finding Home

by Zahra Marwan (Author)

Where Butterflies Fill the Sky: A Story of Immigration, Family, and Finding Home
Reading Level: K − 1st Grade

An evocative picture book debut that tells the true story of the author's immigration from Kuwait to the United States.

Zahra lives in a beautiful place where the desert reaches all the way to the sea and one hundred butterflies always fill the sky. When Baba and Mama tell her that their family is no longer welcome here and they must leave, Zahra wonders if she will ever feel at home again--and what about the people she will leave behind? But when she and her family arrive in a new desert, she's surprised to find magic all around her. Home might not be as far away as she thought it would be.

With spare, moving text and vivid artwork, Zahra Marwan tells the true story of her and her family's immigration from Kuwait, where they were considered stateless, to New Mexico, where together they made a new home.

Kirkus Reviews

The affectionate text is accompanied by traditionally created watercolor illustrations, the palette conveying the feel and beauty of the places featured in the book. A valuable insight into the world of immigration and displacement.


In this dreamlike memoir, Marwan recounts her family's immigration from Kuwait to New Mexico in sparse prose and whimsical, vibrant watercolor illustrations. 

Horn Book Magazine

A nuanced representation of belonging and citizenship that will ring true for many whose sense of home has never been absolute.

School Library Journal

Starred Review

K-Gr 4--In this moving debut, Marwan pares immigration to its elements--family, loss, and acceptance--conveying it in delicate but lively watercolor and line. The true story of her stateless childhood displacement from Kuwait to New Mexico is fully retold in the back matter, which also explains the bull motif (connecting Kuwait to ancient Greece). The narrator (appearing to be about seven) doesn't understand why they must leave the aunties, the home, and culture they know; only the illustrations suggest the menace of people who "say we don't belong." In the new place, the family finds connections: music, the desert, balloons as colorful as the lost butterflies. Zahra is "different," but belongs. Much of the profound appeal of this book comes from the art. Thin expressive lines define spaces of cool color, with touches of plum and black, against gentle washes floating free (clouds, sea, Zahra's puffy hair). Every page includes tiny imaginative details to enchant attentive readers: flowers, birds, fish, prayer beads, oud, guitarrón, and much more. VERDICT This sensitive and beautifully depicted story should touch all young readers, regardless of family background or origin.--Patricia D. Lothrop

Copyright 2022 School Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

Publishers Weekly

Based, per an author's note, on Marwan's childhood experience migrating from Kuwait to New Mexico, this dreamlike picture book traces a family's similar arc. Young Zahra, the story's narrator, loves her home, "where one hundred butterflies are always in the sky" and "where my ancestors live and are always watching." But "people say we don't belong here," and Zahra's family must inexplicably travel to live someplace far away ("I say my goodbyes without knowing why"), a journey rendered as a physical tumult for the tan-skinned household, which flies through the air across a spread to a desertscape. There, Zahra initially feels out of place but soon finds a sense of community and home, missing family but spotting "one hundred balloons" in the sky. With loose, thin-lined illustrations that reflect the child's feelings of being unmoored, this spare picture book thoughtfully explores the difficulties of limited childhood perspective and settling in a new place. Back matter includes contextualizing notes. Ages 4-8. (Mar.)

Copyright 2022 Publishers Weekly, LLC Used with permission.

Review quotes

"The interplay of simple, literal prose and complex, figurative illustration here lifts this sensitive and useful picture book on immigration into an inviting exploration of how experiences are transformed by time and memory." —BCCB, starred review

Utterly original and enjoyable from start to finish. - NPR

"A colorful, captivating odyssey for younger readers." —Shelf Awareness

"Zahra Marwan's stylistic ink and watercolor illustrations are magnificent, incorporating motifs, memories, and colors of both cultures throughout . . . This book seamlessly connects the two cultures, enhancing this simply told story rich in the concepts of immigration, family, and home." —School Library Connection

Zahra Marwan

Zahra Marwan grew up in two deserts -- one close to the sea in Kuwait, the other close to the mountains in New Mexico. She is a fine artist who exhibits extensively and has won international awards and fellowships, including the SCBWI Mentorship Award. She studied the visual arts in France and currently lives in the Barelas neighborhood of Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Lexile Measure
Guided Reading Level
Bloomsbury Publishing PLC
Publication date
March 20, 2022
BISAC categories
JNF053240 - Juvenile Nonfiction | Social Topics | Emigration & Immigration
JNF007050 - Juvenile Nonfiction | Biography & Autobiography | Cultural Heritage
JNF019000 - Juvenile Nonfiction | Family | General
JNF038130 - Juvenile Nonfiction | People & Places | United States - Middle Eastern & Arab American
Library of Congress categories
United States
Emigration and immigration
Kuwaiti Americans
Stateless persons
Marwan, Zahra
New York Times Book Review & New York Public Library
Best Illustrated Children's Book 2022

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