I Lived on Butterfly Hill

Book review by
Joanna H. Kraus, Common Sense Media
I Lived on Butterfly Hill Book Poster Image
Moving story of Chilean girl's escape from a dictatorship.

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age 12+
Based on 3 reviews

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The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Readers will learn about life in Chile before, during, and after the military takeover by Pinochet. Although the story is fictional, it's grounded in history and the author's personal experience. 

Positive Messages

 What happens to a neighbor also happens to us. We can't all pretend nothing ever happened. Even one person can make a difference. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

As the book begins, Celeste is a dreamer, but she becomes a determined, resilient, selfless young woman. She courageously searches for her father and starts a traveling library to help Valparaiso heal its wounds. Her family members love one another deeply. Her doctor parents run a clinic to help the poor. Her grandmother, Abuela Frida, who fled Austria when the Nazis took over, is a wise woman who outsmarts the Chilean soldiers bent on burning books. Nana Delfina looks after everyone with devotion. Cristobal is a true friend, and with his mystical powers he helps Celeste search for her father. Her aunt, Tia Graciela, who lives in Maine, welcomes Celeste to the United States and helps her adjust to a foreign way of life.


Once the ships arrive in the harbor, the liberal president of Chile is killed, the military dictatorship takes over the country, classmates disappear, former friends become enemies, teachers are suspended, and terror reigns. But most of the violence here happens offstage. We find out after the fact the grim details of such things as Celeste's father's imprisonment and the protest demonstration "Donde Estan?" ("Where are they?").

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that I Lived on Butterfly Hill is the story of a sixth-grade girl who's sent from her home in Chile to the United States to escape the dangers of Augusto Pinochet's dictatorship and then returns two years later to discover her parents are missing. The story's drawn from the experience of author Marjorie Agosin, who was raised in Chile by Jewish parents and moved to the United States when Pinochet took over the country. Agosin won the American Library Association's 2015 Pura Bulpre Award for authors whose work best portrays, affirms and celebrates the Latino cultural experience. I Lived on Butterfly Hill features accounts of people "disappearing," Celeste's parents fleeing death threats, her father being imprisoned, and Celeste being homesick in a brand-new country. Over the course of the novel, Celeste the dreamer is transformed into a compassionate teen who wants to help rebuild her country.

User Reviews

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Teen, 13 years old Written byBentleDolores August 20, 2018

The book that caused me to stop calling The Secret Garden my favorite book of all time.

This is probably one of the greatest stories you'll ever come to know (well, if you do get to know it), and one of the saddest too, if you really understan... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written byHermioneMia April 13, 2017

I Lived on Butterfly Hill

This is a moving story about a Chilean girl's life in a time of solidarity. It truly touched me and is a book that I will always remember. Even after read... Continue reading

What's the story?

Sixth-grader Celeste loves her home, family, school, and friends until her country, Chile, is taken over by the military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. People suddenly vanish; her doctor parents, who run a clinic for the poor, are called "subversive" and must hide. She's sent thousands of miles away to an aunt in Maine, where she must adjust to a different climate, culture, and language. Two years later, she returns as a young teen to a tattered nation after the dictatorship has ended but the country is still dangerous. Will she ever see her parents again? Determined, she sets out to find them and help her country heal its devastating wounds.

Is it any good?

I LIVED ON BUTTERFLY HILL is a moving story that needs to be told. It's written with a poet's sensitivity and compassion for those who suffered under Pinochet's totalitarian regime. The novel centers on one family yet gives voice to a country striving to heal, to the idea of solidarity, and to the hopes and dreams of one teen who makes a difference.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the role of the media in influencing public opinion. How does a dictatorship influence news coverage to control public opinion? What purpose does that serve for a totalitarian government? 

  • How does historical fiction help you understand historical events? Does having the story narrated by Celia help you understand her world and what she's going through? 

  • Read some of Pablo Neruda's poetry aloud with a friend and pick a favorite. Then tell each other why you chose the poem you did.

Book details

Our editors recommend

For kids who love history and strong female characters

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