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The Butterfly Heart

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Teenage Book of the Month

The Butterfly Heart by Paula Leyden
Published by Walker Books, 2011.

The Butterfly Heart, set in Zambia, tells the story of Winnifred, a young girl who is to be married off to an old man who could well be her grand-dad.

Twins Bul-Boo and Madillo are worried about their friend who no longer smiles and no longer puts her hand up to answer questions like she used to do all the time in class.

Along with their friend Fred they delicately try to provide Winnifred with the opportunity to tell them her troubles and when she eventually informs them that she is to be married to an old man who drinks too much, they are horrified.

In an effort to save her from her fate they enlist the help of Ifwafwa, the snake man who is wise and always eager to help, even if it takes him a long time.

Paula Leyden was inspired to write this story as a result of what happened to one of her own friends who was only aged eleven when she fell victim to the culture of arranged marriages.

The Butterfly Heart is a story that deals with a very serious issue but the way it is presented restores the reader’s faith in kindness and gentleness. Family relationships and sibling rivalry are explored with humour and warmth bringing the reader to a satisfying ending. The book also evokes such a real picture of the culture and lifestyle of Zambia, that it transports the reader there with its striking descriptions.

The Butterfly Heart won the Eilis Dillon Award (CBI Book of the Year) for best first book in 2012 and Paula’s second book, The Sleeping Baobab Tree won the CBI Special Judges Award in 2014.

Paula Leyden’s talks were some of the more memorable events for children and teenagers during the Children’s Book Festival in October.