Yellow Butterfly: A Story from Ukraine

by Oleksandr Shatokhin (Author)

Yellow Butterfly: A Story from Ukraine
Reading Level: 2nd − 3rd Grade

* "Provocative, powerful, breathtakingly beautiful." -STARRED REVIEW, Kirkus Reviews

*"Both timely and timeless, evoking war and its aftermath without losing sight of hope."-STARRED REVIEW, Booklist

* "Stark images in black and white lead this sympathetic wordless picture book about a girl who's enduring the war in Ukraine."-STARRED REVIEW, Foreword Reviews

"Breathtaking" -Ruta Sepetys, author of Between Shades of Gray

"A beautiful and heartbreaking tribute to the resiliency of people in wartime;"- School Library Journal

"A moving portrait."-New York Times

A wordless picture book portrayal of war seen through the eyes of a young girl who finds hope in the symbolism of yellow butterflies against the background of a pure blue sky. Using the colors of his national flag, Oleksandr Shatokhin has created a deeply emotional response to the conflict in Ukraine and provided a narrative full of powerful visual metaphors for readers to consider as they travel from the devastating effects of war to a place of hope for peace and the future.

A portion of the sale of this book will be donated to the Universal Reading Foundation who supply children's books to Ukraine. Back matter includes notes on sharing a wordless picture book and how to talk to children about war.

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Kirkus Reviews

Responding to the Russia-Ukraine war, Ukrainian artist Shatokhin's wordless narrative offers a child's-eye view of military conflict . . . There is much for readers to interpret through conversations and multiple readings in these artfully designed pages, . . . Shatokhin employs color, scale, perspective, and pattern to great effect in timely--and timeless--scenes that capture the protagonist's fear, fury, frustration, and ultimately hope. Exquisite compositions depict a yellow swarm of butterflies becoming the child's wings, lifting them to see a blue sky amid the destruction (yellow and blue being the colors of the Ukrainian flag) . . . Provocative, powerful, breathtakingly beautiful.


Young readers . . . will connect with the emotion coursing through its apposite Expressionist illustrations. . . This moving story is both timely and timeless, evoking war and its aftermath without losing sight of hope.

Publishers Weekly

Via an emotionally tinged arc that moves from darkness to light, Ukrainian creator Shatokhin offers a visual prospect of a time when "yellow butterflies will flutter freely in free Ukraine." Threatening, nightmarish images in black-and-white begin this wordless work. Initial pages show lines of barbed wire alongside the silhouette of a solitary light-skinned child, obscuring the youth's eyes; a large spider appears amid the barbs and gives chase, and the child trips over a rock. Soon, though, a single glowing yellow butterfly emerges, and over ensuing spreads that feature war-torn backgrounds, the child follows its meanderings. Starkly rendered, scribbly images juxtapose scenes of war with glimpses of the natural world, portray the child's reactions, and show the butterfly multiplying across various landscapes--a dark crater appears in one, children enjoy a playground in another. Eventually, patches of blue sky appear, swarming with yellow butterflies that form wings for the child as well as dismantle the barbed wire of the book's initial pages. A final spread depicts pale figures gazing at a blue and yellow horizon that mimics Ukraine's flag. Guidelines for sharing a wordless book with young readers conclude this unflinching response to current events from the perspective of a single child. Ages 4-8. (Jan.)

Copyright 2022 Publishers Weekly, LLC Used with permission.

School Library Journal

K-Gr 4—Shatokhin, a Ukrainian artist, wordlessly shares a message of hope and perseverance amidst devastation. A powerful opening shows shades of charcoal black, revealing themselves through a widening perspective to be rows of barbed wire. Among these a child discovers a yellow butterfly, the first appearance of color into the book. Together they visit the sites of war: a crater where a playground once stood, a missile in place of a tree. The child's grief and anger overwhelm her. As she shoves the missile out of the earth, a spray of butterflies erupts from the hole and fills the sky. Now sky blue and yellow (the shades of the national flag) wash across the pages in a prophecy of what is yet to come when the war is over. This culminates in the mass of butterflies breaking the barbed wire and transforming into the shape of a stork, the national bird of Ukraine. The illustrations are striking, depicting the lifelessness of a land ravaged by war, until it blossoms into a burst of color, the swarm of butterflies seeming to rise off the page. The child is paper-white and often shown in silhouette. To supplement the somewhat abstract visual story, a brief author's note speaks of faith and hope for the restoration of normalcy in Ukraine. Additional back matter offers practical suggestions for sharing a wordless picture book and slightly less useful advice for giving children "facts and context that is age-appropriate" without providing any such context. Without this, some adults may struggle to provide adequate scaffolding to the powerful illustrations. VERDICT A beautiful and heartbreaking tribute to the resiliency of people in wartime; with support from adults, children will gain perspective on the need for hope under hardship.—Clara Hendricks

Copyright 2023 School Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

Review quotes

* Stark images in black and white lead this sympathetic wordless picture book about a girl who's enduring the war in Ukraine. -STARRED REVIEW, Foreword Reviews

Using the colors of his national flag, the Ukrainian author-illustrator of this wordless picture book paints a moving portrait of a young child whose hope for the future transforms a dark world of war into a bright blue sky where yellow butterflies flutter freely. - The New York Times

Using modest means, the author evokes the darkness of war and a vision of peace. Quite an achievement for a wordless picture book! -Uri Shulevitz, Caldecott medal winner and author of the autobiography Chance: Escape from the Holocaust, Memories of a Refugee Childhood

Yellow Butterfly has realms of meaning for me. I grew up with the style and the hidden ideas just like that. It is all about freedom. My life is about freedom. And the War in Ukraine is about freedom. My adult life is formed by the Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. Unfortunately, so is Oleksandr Shatokhin's 55 years later. The book is like looking into the mirror of my life ... in style and in the sentiment ... freedom is never given voluntarily by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Free Ukraine! -Peter Sis, Caldecott Honor artist and creator of The Wall, Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain

Breathtaking! -Ruta Sepetys, New York Times bestselling author of Between Shades of Grey and I Must Betray You

Oleksandr Shatokhin
Oleksandr Shatokhin is an artist and children's book illustrator who lives and works in Ukraine. On the first day of the Russian invasion of Ukarine, Oleksandr and his family left their home in Sumy, close to the Russian border, for Poltava. On the way there, they were held up in occupied Trostianka (Sumy region), but finally managed to travel through the green corridor to reach their friends in Poltava. Oleksandr's wife and child continued on to the safety of Poland. The author stayed in Ukraine. After two months apart the family was reunited in Western Ukraine and are living together in the city of Lviv, close to the Polish border.
Lexile Measure
Guided Reading Level
Red Comet Press
Publication date
January 31, 2023
BISAC categories
JUV039180 - Juvenile Fiction | Social Themes | Violence
JUV030050 - Juvenile Fiction | People & Places | Europe
JUV059000 - Juvenile Fiction | Dystopian
JUV075000 - Juvenile Fiction | War & Military
Library of Congress categories
Picture books
War fiction
Wordless picture books
Russian Invasion, 2022-

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