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Teaching Children About the Gray Areas

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I am working on revamping my illustration portfolio. But I have been trying to do this with a much more ethically minded method. Recently, I had a wonderful image pop into my mind that I would love to illustrate about a butterfly catcher. In my research I have learned that the world of butterfly catching and specimens is a lot more complicated than what I grew up thinking from an environmental standpoint. At first, I worried that to execute my idea would be "unethical" or "irresponsible"  to show someone catching butterflies, but as I dug into the story I learned that in certain areas, like in Africa and Asia, butterfly catching is a way of life for people to support their families. It even part of a heritage that has been passed down for generations.  Butterfly wings are even also often used in artwork that is sold for a  small income.  I even bought some butterfly specimens back in my days at college for an art project (not knowing about all of this) So then I am confronted with a gray area.

Butterflies die so that they can be marveled at. Some even carry a thousand dollar price tag. These rare and illegal butterflies are sold on the black market to collectors in other countries. That threatens conservation and is obviously not a good thing.
But on the other hand, here are people who use the butterfly trade as a way to support themselves. I don't feel comfortable making a moral judgement on something like this.

So what I am wondering is, is it appropriate to show kids these kind of gray areas within pictures books and have them consider it for themselves, is it better to present a clear stance or avoid the issue completely?

The image I eventually come up with will only be going into my portfolio and not into a final book. However, I feel like I have a responsibility to think or even overthink the pictures I make.  Does anyone else wonder about the implications of their images like this or am I just torturing myself for no reason? If you do, how do you handle it? What is the line between "too big for kids" and "sugar coating" things?  I would love to hear all opinions on this.

Thanks!

-Jeanne
#1 - August 06, 2019, 05:28 PM

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I think very little is too big for kids. But this is a grey area that your image won't likely contain. It might be great to see a nonfiction book on the topic. It wouldn't have to take a stance. Let kids draw their own conclusions. Even fiction dealing with this where the character recognizes the moral dilemma would be cool.

Butterflies used to be caught for species identification and research. I was fascinated by the collection at a local natural history museum as a child, but I was also bothered by the mounted art versions I saw as a teen and adult. They are now being over fished, if you will.

So if you are willing to take on a book project to surround your image, I say go for it. After all, an art director might ask if the image is related to other work you have planned. (This is true for any image.) Or if you can provide context within the art, that could also be cool.

On another note, there is an Americana thing to chasing butterflies with nets as kids. Your image could head in that nostalgia direction and avoid the questions posed in modern times.

These are just another person's ramblings on the topic though. No one can tell you what's right for you but you.
#2 - August 06, 2019, 06:26 PM
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Jeanne, I love butterflies and used to catch them as a kid and loved the iridescent powder that would be upon my fingers. I'd always release them and they seemed fine, flitting from flower to flower. I think a PB about catching them or using them in art would be fascinating and you can draw your attention to both their beauty and our need to save them from premature death. At the local farmer's market there's a woman who makes art with them and notes that none of the butterflies were killed for this purpose. She goes in search of dead ones. My MIL's mother also made beautiful dioramas with all natural materials, including butterflies. Of all the things, these are my favorite.

PBs have such a wide range. And if this is something close to your heart, you should definitely write about it. Execution will be everything--maybe this will be a book that's appropriate for the older child. Take a look at some of the  NF books by Charlesbridge. And remember, many teachers use PBs up through middle school. You can also try writing a short article for a magazine to gauge interest. I often do this in my own work. Good luck!
#3 - August 07, 2019, 06:33 AM
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Author of over 60 books and 60 magazine pieces

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Thank you for the encouragement and the permission to continue! I am excited to continue with my idea. I think I will work on making an image that focuses on the study of moths and butterflies this time, but if it leads to other opportunities I will take all of your kind words with me to push me forward into that strange gray area.
#4 - August 07, 2019, 02:31 PM

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