Science Book a Day Interviews Loree Griffin Burns and Ellen Harasimowicz


Special thanks to Loree Griffin Burns and Ellen Harasimowicz for answering 6 questions about their recently featured book – Handle With Care: An Unusual Butterfly Journey

Loree is an award-winning writer whose books for young people have won many accolades, including ALA Notable designations, a Boston Globe-Horn Book Honor Book Award, an IRA Children’s Book Award, a Green Earth Book Award and two Science Books & Films (SB&F) Prizes. She holds a Ph.D. in biochemistry and her books draw heavily on both her passion for science and nature and her experiences as a working scientist. – From Loree’s Homepage

In 2004, Ellen launched her career as a freelance photographer working primarily for the Boston Globe and the Worcester Telegram & Gazette. Her photography has also appeared in the Washington PostScientific AmericanDown EastWild Apples, and Audubon Adventures. In 2008, Ellen teamed up with children’s author Loree Burns to create The Hive Detectives: Chronicle of a Honey Bee Catastrophe. The book, published in the spring of 2010, is part of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s Scientists in the Field series. – Adapted from Ellen’s Homepage

Loree’s Homepage:
Loree’s Twitter:

Ellen’s Homepage:

#1 – What was the impetus for Handle with Care?

LB: This book grew out of a family trip to The Butterfly Garden at Boston’s Museum of Science, a humid little space on the second floor where one can walk into an exhibit of live butterflies. Such exhibits are fairly common these days, but in 2008, this was a first-time experience for me. It was such a surprise! I was enthralled by the sights and sounds and smells of the place, and my kids and I stayed for hours. When I learned from the exhibit docents that most of the insects fly-by-ing our noses had hatched from eggs several weeks earlier … in Central America, I simply had to know more.

I started by interviewing the curator of the exhibit, Lea Morgan. She showed me the back room at The Butterfly Garden, where hundreds of butterfly and moth pupae were pinned inside plastic shoe boxes, waiting for the day they would emerge as adults and be transferred to the exhibit room. While I was there, Lea received a package from Costa Rica. A delivery man dropped it off, as if it might contain something humdrum, like socks. Or pencils. Inside were hundreds of carefully wrapped butterfly pupae.

Lucky for me, Lea is as generous as she is passionate. In addition to several more visits to her back room, Ellen and I were eventually able to accompany her to Costa Rica, where she introduced us to the farmers that raise many of her butterflies.

#2 – You focus on butterflies ‘farmed’ in Costa Rica. What is the history of these butterflies? How having butterflies come to be ‘farmed’?

LB:There are farms like this all over the world, and I’m sure each has its own story. Ernesto Rodriguez, manager at El Bosque Nuevo mariposario (butterfly farm) in Costa Rica shared its story with me during our stays there, and it’s a fairly simple one: they are interested in reforesting their land and, at the same time, protecting the forest around it. One way to do that is to build an economic incentive for people in the region to protect the forest. By training locals to farm the butterflies that live there in an environmentally- sustainable and butterfly-friendly way—they don’t collect pupae from the wild but, rather, collect a small number of adult butterflies, breed them in captivity, and then release a percentage of the butterflies they raise back into the wild—they’ve begun to build that infrastructure. Ernesto markets the pupae raised on his farm as well as on a number of smaller operations in the area, provided they raise the pupae sustainably. It’s a nice system that seems to be protecting the forest and, at the same time, helps educate the rest of the world about butterflies in general and tropical butterflies in particular.

#3 – How long was the process of photography for this book? How did you decide which images to keep?

EH: I photographed over a period of close to two years. Loree and I made two week-long trips to Costa Rica to collect photos of the farming process at El Bosque Nuevo and there were a few trips to the Museum of Science in Boston, MA. Each day I photographed I made hundreds if not thousands of images. The selection of images came after Loree had started to write the story. The photos were necessary to support the story. Once we had the story we selected the best images to support the story. There were many great images that couldn’t be used because we had a finite number of pages in the book – 33 pages plus endsheets and the cover.

#4 – In terms of photography, what was the hardest thing to capture?

EH: The hardest thing to capture was life inside the butterfly greenhouses. The butterflies were flying all over so my shutter speed had to be very fast. Also, my camera angle had to be very wide to capture the whole scene. The greenhouses were not over crowded with butterflies, so the final image in the book on page 9 does not really tell the story as well as video of the scene would have.

The images that took the longest time to make are those on page 26 of the butterfly’s emergence from the chrysalis. That particular butterfly is on the cover of the book and on pages 6, 26 and 27. When the butterflies are shipped from El Bosque Nuevo they are not attached to any branches, but we thought that perhaps the book might be about one particular butterfly, so we asked Ernesto to leave this specific chrysalis attached to this twig as a way to identify it from the others. We named it “Twiggy.” After photographing the chrysalis in Costa Rica (none of these images were selected for the book) I photographed it later when it had arrived at the Museum of Science in Boston. One morning about ten days after the pupa had arrived at the museum, Lea Morgan, curator of the butterfly exhibit at the MoS, called me when she saw signs that the butterfly was about to emerge from the chrysalis. I was basically “on call” for Twiggy’s birth. I arrived at the museum and arranged my setup to capture the emergence. I placed the chrysalis (which was attached to a piece of white foam) in a white box, set up my lights, placed my camera on a tripod, selected my exposure, and waited for the moment. Six hours later it happened. Fortunately the museum was still open and I was able to wait it out. Once the butterfly’s very thin chrysalis starts to crack open, it takes only a minute for the butterfly to emerge. I shot over a thousand frames that day – before Twiggy emerged, as it emerged, as it was clinging to the shell of the chrysalis and pumping fluid through it’s wings, and finally as it was released into the butterfly exhibit as shown on page 27. This beautiful little girl just happened to be at the exhibit that morning, and she was just as delighted as I was to see this brand new butterfly named Twiggy.

#5 – What has the been the response of children/parents and teachers who have read the book?

LB: Most of the kids and adults I’ve met in schools or at literary events have experience with live butterfly exhibits. They’ve either visited themselves or heard about them from others. A few have visited them via online cams. (See, for example, Even still, they don’t seem to have realized that the butterflies have taken this incredible journey to get to the museum. So, for the most part, they tell me that reading the book was a learning experience! Which makes me very glad we wrote it.

#6 – Are you working on any new books/projects you can tell us about?

LB: Ellen and I just released our fourth book together, Beetle Busters: A Rogue Insect and the People Who Track It. It’s part of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s Scientists in the Field series and tells the story of the Asian longhorned beetle—an invasive insect poised to completely alter America’s northeast hardwood forest—and the men and women studying the beetle in Massachusetts. You can find out more about it, and read a few of the early reviews, here:

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