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A little boy named Bertie grows up in South Africa and befriends a lion cub. Bertie is heartbroken when he is sent away to boarding school in England, and the cub is sent to a circus. Bertie runs away from school and meets Millie. Much later, while fighting in the war in France, he finds both the lion and Millie again.
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Michael Morpurgo is the author of The Butterfly Lion and, in his preface, he tells of the inspiration and ideas for this book. He, himself, tried to run away from school; he read a book about a pride of white lions; he met Virginia McKenna who championed the causes of all things born free; he heard the true story of a soldier who rescued some circus animals in France; and he saw a white horse carved on a chalky hillside in Wiltshire, England.
He was born in 1943 and began teaching primary children after studying English and French in London, England. He began to make up stories for his classes. His students loved them and Michael realized that this was what he really wanted to do. The Butterfly Lion was written in 1996.
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Enjoying the Book Together
The Butterfly Lion is a book that should be shared. It is an ideal story to read a chapter a day to your class. After each reading you and the class could discuss the events of that day's chapter:
Here are a few suggestions:
Chilblains and Semolina Pudding: What are 'chilblains'? Why was Bertie running away that particular day? Do you think that was the way to solve his problems?
Running Free: Did Bertie have the right idea to set the lion free? Do you think it will work? Was Bertie's father being mean, or was he doing what he thought best for Bertie and the lion? Why do you think Bertie's mother said that the lion "couldn't cope? He'd be dead in weeks"?
A Miracle, A Miracle: How do you know that Millie was nervous around the lion? Why did the colonel agree to Bertie's requests? Why do you think that the vicar said that the lion could not attend the wedding? Why do you think that Millie was glad that the vicar said no?
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Following the Characters
After reading the book make three timelines: one for Bertie, one for Millie, and one for the white lion. This could be a whole class activity. Make a list of events in each of the characters' lives and then plot them on each timeline. This will illustrate the relationships between the events and the cause and effect in each of their lives. After the events are written on the timelines, students could add illustrations.
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After reading this book, many students will show different emotions. Here are some activities they can do:
- Encourage them to share these feelings by writing a letter to the author.
- Investigate white lions on the Internet and tell why white lions would be in danger in the wild.
- Find out from books or the Internet information on Adonis blue butterflies.
- Write a definition for these words: veldt, kopje, codswallop, semolina pudding
- Create a front page for a newspaper telling that the white lion and the heroic soldier have returned to England.
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Activities for Early Primary Students
Make a T- shirt: Materials needed: large sheets of paper (newsprint, mural paper, etc), crayons or markers,
Directions: Cut two child-sized shirts from the paper. Side 1. Students print the title of the book and the author around the neck. Draw a picture of each of the main characters on the chest. Print their names. Side 2. Draw a picture of your favorite part of the book. Print a sentence about it. Staple the shoulders and the sides. Students may wear or share their shirts when finished.
Make a Book Mark: Provide card strips approximately 6" X 2" (15cms X 5cms). Invite students to print the title of the book and the author on one side. On the other side, encourage them to tell about their favorite part of the book and illustrate it. Tell why they would recommend it to a friend.
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Examine why Bertie was an excellent friend. Provide big paper hearts and invite the students to write all the things that they think make a good friend.
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Author's own classroom experiences