Airplanes in the Garden

Monarch Butterflies Take Flight
by Joan Z. Calder
Former San Jose resident writes children's book about monarch butterflies
By Carol Rosen
For Silicon Valley Community Newspapers
Posted: 09/22/2011 08:01:50 PM PDT
Updated: 09/22/2011 08:01:51 PM PDT

Butterflies are amazing creatures. Their flying skills and beauty often have been the fodder for movies, cartoons, designers and books.

Joan Calder, a former Almaden Valley and Willow Glen resident, has written a children's book based on an experience she had with a couple of monarch caterpillars, and she will be coming to the Bay Area Sept. 25 to talk about the book.

Calder spent more than 30 years in the South Bay and worked a number of jobs before returning to school and getting an associate degree from Foothill College in ornamental horticulture. The degree led her to start a landscape and gardening design business here that moved with her to Santa Barbara almost 10 years ago.

Since that move, she began teaching adult education in garden design at Santa Barbara City College and now also manages the Greenhouse for Ecology, Evolution and Marine Biology at UC-Santa Barbara. Her work at the university inspired her book on monarch butterflies, Airplanes in the Garden: Monarch Butterflies Take Flight.

"Monarchs have become my passion. To think four years ago, I didn't know anything about them, and now they've taken over my life," she says, adding that butterflies are the No. 2 plant pollinator after bees.

Several years ago, the monarch caterpillars at the university greenhouse ate all the milkweed plants, resulting in a lack of food for the insects. As more butterflies were born, more came to lay eggs. One day, there wasn't enough milkweed to feed the hungry caterpillars, so Calder took some of them home to feed them the milkweed plants in her home garden.

"I got quite attached to the caterpillars and even named two of them after my lab assistants, Sergio and Stanley. And, I would talk to them, encouraging them to stay in the garden. And they did. Two days later there was a monarch chrysalis outside on the patio under the table," says Calder.

"I've always wanted to write a mystery book, but this was a book I had to write. It's a story about the little girl in me," she adds. The book is about a little girl who adopts two caterpillars in her garden, naming them Sergio and Stanley. It follows the caterpillars' adventures as they go through their metamorphosis, finally turning into butterflies.

"I didn't want the caterpillars to talk," Calder says in a release. "I really wanted a nonfiction story, and it seems to be a hit with libraries, botanical gardens and schools, because that's the curriculum for first and second grades.

Artist Cathy Quiel drew the illustrations using watercolors, which worked well because the paints can be translucent, like butterfly wings.

Calder hold a book signing at SummerWinds Nursery, 805 Yuba Drive in Mountain View on Sept. 25, 2-3 p.m. The book also is available locally at the Almaden Valley Nursery, 15800 Almaden Expressway and at Hicklebee's Children's Books, 1378 Lincoln Ave. It can also be purchased at

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