________________ CM . . . . Volume XVI Number 11. . . .November 13, 2009


Butterflies in My Belly.

Jacqueline MacKay. Illustrations by Brenda Whiteway.
Charlottetown, PE: Acorn Press, 2009.
28 pp., pbk., $7.95.
ISBN 978-1-894838-37-5.

Subject Headings:
Anxiety-Juvenile fiction.
Schools-Juvenile fiction.

Grades 2-4 / Ages 7-9.

Review by Alison Mews.

*** /4



My name is Tommy Corbin and I'm in grade 3. In the morning when I'm waiting for the school bus, something in my belly starts fluttering.

It feels like I have butterflies in there.

At first it feels like there is just one baby butterfly, but when it gets closer to the time that my bus comes, the baby butterfly explodes into millions of butterflies.

All that fluttering makes me feel sick.


Butterflies in My Belly, a brightly illustrated book, is written by a child therapist to help children cope with feelings of anxiety. The author uses Tommy's voice to describe his day at school - what makes him happy and when the familiar feeling of butterflies fluttering overcomes him and renders him speechless. One day, Tommy overhears his teacher inform his parents that he has anxiety, but he misinterprets the word as ang(sigh)ety, believing it has to do with him sighing too much. His tentative inquiry to a grandmotherly neighbour is dismissed in a well-meaning manner, his peers are of no help, and he is unwilling to reveal to his parents he was eavesdropping. Tommy finally gathers his courage and asks his gym teacher who handles his query with sensitivity and reassurance. Tommy is astounded to learn this cool, strong man knows the problem intimately, and from him. Tommy learns breathing techniques that dispel the fluttering.

internal art     This book admirably deals with the topic of anxiety in children. Most children experience some form of anxiety - from the separation anxiety when starting school to stage fright at concerts and performances - and will identify with Tommy. The dialogue is very natural, and both the text and the colourful, well-executed pictures include enough details of Tommy's daily activities that the focus is on Tommy rather than his problem.

     Artist Brenda Whiteway has composed lovely illustrations with pastoral and school scenes full of butterfly motifs. There's a butterfly mobile in the art room, a butterfly illustrating the letter B on the classroom alphabet chart, a butterfly-patterned tablecloth and so on. She excels at portraiture, and Tommy's face is very expressive; alternately looking anxious, happy, worried or perplexed as the story requires. Hopefully, we will see more of her illustrations in future children's books.

      While all children might benefit from this story, for those with a more serious form of the problem this book, like other bibliotherapy books for children, should be shared by a caring adult to form the beginning of a discussion. Helpful guidelines for parents, teachers or counsellors will be found in the online Butterflies Resource Guide.


Alison Mews is the librarian at the Curriculum Materials Centre in the Faculty of Education at the Memorial University of Newfoundland.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364
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