Written by Caitlin O’Keefe
Welcome back to another year of Reading into History! We are so excited to see new and returning faces at our first meeting on September 10 to discuss I Lived on Butterfly Hill by award-winning author Marjorie Agosín.
For those of you who may be joining us for the first time this fall, Reading into History is our monthly book club for kids 9–12. Each month families read a historical fiction or nonfiction book together at home and then attend a “Book Wrap” event, where they share reactions to the book, see cool museum artifacts and documents related to the story, and meet other history detectives and special guests. This fall, we’ve got a super exciting line-up of books!
In October, Rosalyn Schanzer joins us to discuss Witches, her spooky history of Salem, Masschusetts! In November, Thannha Lai explores her stunning novel-in-verse Inside Out and Back Again, followed by an exciting guided tour of our fall exhibition The Vietnam War: 1945–1975.
To start thinking about Hispanic Heritage Month—which begins five days after our first meeting—we can’t wait to talk about I Lived on Butterfly Hill. In this novel, Agosín brings readers back to the Chilean city of Valparaíso in 1973. For the protagonist, Celeste, Valparaíso is an enchanted place—she cherishes empanada Sundays, wanders her colorful city memorizing poetry, and cares for the less fortunate in her community with her doctor parents; however, when warships arrive in Valparaíso’s port, everything changes. Her government falls, people start to disappear, and she becomes a refugee in the United States. In this soaring story based on the actual events of Augusto Pinochet’s military coup in 1973, Agosín invites readers to explore what it means to find a new home in the U.S.
I Lived on Butterfly Hill gives readers so much to consider and reflect upon, so here are a few things to keep in mind while you’re reading!
- Like Celeste, author Marjorie Agosín moved from Chile to the United States when a dictator took over her country. While you work your way through the book, think of what questions you’d like to ask her when we Skype with her at our meeting.
- While I Lived on Butterfly Hill is based on a very specific period of Chilean history, Marjorie Agosín did change a few facts. The dictator, Augusto Pinochet, as well as the president he deposed, Salvador Allende, have different names in the book. You’ll also find that the dictatorship in the book falls much faster than Pinochet’s did in reality. As you read, consider this: why do you think Agosín made these changes?
- I Lived on Butterfly Hill tells the story of one young refugee. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), an estimated 200,000 Chileans left in response to the 1973 coup and relocated in 110 different countries. The UNHCR calculates that today the world is experiencing the greatest refugee crisis on record, with more than 65.5 million displaced people around the world seeking new homes. More than 55 percent of today’s displaced people come from Syria, Afghanistan, and Sudan. Taking into consideration Celeste’s journey in the novel and news you may be reading about today’s refugee crisis, what do you think are the biggest struggles young refugees face?
- Wondering what Butterfly Hill looks like today? Agosín writes that her city looks like “a canvas where a painter has made one brushstroke with each of the colors on the palette.” Beloved Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, a favorite of both our protagonist and our author this month, put it another way, dubbing Valparaíso, “Queen of all the world’s coasts.” It’s no wonder that Valparaíso is also known as the Jewel of the Pacific! As you read Agosín’s beautiful description of Valparaíso, what do you think you’d want to do and see in Celeste’s city?
Tania Ruiz, Valparaíso Color Patrimonial. Created June 6, 2009. CC BY-SA 3.0
Of course, there’s so much more to discuss, so make sure to join us for the meeting, when we’ll look at some primary source materials on Pinochet’s regime and how he came to power. See you September 10!