Vulpes Libris

A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle

HungryCaterpillarI remember quite clearly the moment that I first encountered The Very Hungry Caterpillar. I was in the first year of primary school and the teacher brought out this huge book – much larger than the neat little board book I have now for my own daughter – and she opened the first page to reveal a small caterpillar egg. I remember my sense of wonder as I watched the egg’s tiny little caterpillar eat through various foods until he built himself a cocoon and transformed into a magnificent butterfly. This was not a book that we had at home and, apart from that one time in school, I didn’t see the book again until I bought it for my own child. But the book’s story (and determined protagonist) made such a great impression on me, that I never forgot it. That is the power of The Very Hungry Caterpillar.

According to Wikipedia, The Very Hungry Caterpillar has sold thirty million copies. How has a little caterpillar worked such magic on generations of children? Well, it’s a story of growing and of transformation, so one can see the appeal of those things, especially to children. It’s also a story of eating. Of enjoying food. Of food changing little bodies and allowing them to become bigger and stronger.

The caterpillar eats a lot of fruit (good caterpillar. Let’s hear it for healthy snacks) but on the Saturday, he also eats things like chocolate cake, ice cream, lollipops and cherry pie. And he does that classic kid thing of only eating a little bit of a certain food before moving onto the next item, because his eyes are most certainly bigger than his belly. But, *lesson alert* he eats so much of this rich food that he gives himself a stomach ache. Thankfully, he feels better the next day and is ready to build himself a cocoon…

So, as well as being lots of fun, the book is also educational. We learn the obvious things: that eating makes us grow big and strong, that caterpillars pupate and turn into butterflies (or moths, I suppose). But there is more subtle learning, too. The caterpillar eats a different food stuff every single day, so here we have a book teaching us the days of the week in an interesting manner. He eats two of one thing, then three of another, then four, etc, so the book is also teaching us counting, and we can practice that as we go along. The caterpillar eats fruits that are different colours, so we can practice those colours in a fun way without being hammered over the head with Learning. The book also invites questioning: what are those weird green things on the butterfly’s head? Where did his wings come from? Does he still have a stomach ache? What is a pickle? And these are all delightful questions for the reader to (try to) answer.

The book is famous for its collage illustrations and each page has holes punched into it to show where the caterpillar has nibbled his way through various foods. This makes the book particularly tactile, as little hands reach to touch the holes, and these can be counted too. The colours used in the illustrations are vibrant and attractive and, even though the book was first published in 1969, it still feels very modern.

All of which is to say that I am a huge fan of The Very Hungry Caterpillar and if you’ve never read it – or even if you have – I would urge you to get hold of a copy.

Now, what do you suppose that caterpillar was called? Colin? Kevin? Cuthbert? I vote for Cuthbert.

Puffin Books. Board book. £6.99. ISBN-13: 978-0140569322

5 comments on “The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle

  1. Jackie
    April 18, 2013

    The caterpillar doesn’t have a name??? I too vote for Cuthbert, it sounds very caterpillary(as well as timeless). I’d heard of this book, but never read it & now I see why it’s so popular, with all it’s layers & learning in such a fun way. Your memory of first encountering it was quite touching & I’m glad that you’ve been able to share the book with your little one.

  2. Stevie Carroll
    April 18, 2013

    A lovely book, that I remember well. No idea what happened to my copy, though.

  3. Kate
    April 19, 2013

    I didn’t encounter TVHC till I had children, and we had our own copy pretty soon after the we had to give the library copy back. I liked the bit where the caterpillar feels ill after eating too much, roars of laughter from my girls at that, every time.

  4. Hilary
    April 19, 2013

    This book has been with me all my professional life (as a librarian). It belongs to a select list of books for children that work in every generation and can be recommended without reserve. And it’s a delight for grownup readers too, and instantly recognisable. I love it too! And what a lovely review. (Another perennial, ageless favourite is ‘Can’t You Sleep, Little Bear?’ Every baby of my acquaintance has been given this).

  5. Pingback: Lucy Ladybird by Sharon King-Chai | Vulpes Libris

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This entry was posted on April 18, 2013 by in Entries by Lisa, Fiction: children's.



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  • (The header image is from Aesop's Fables, illustrated by Francis Barlow (1666), and appears courtesy of the Digital and Multimedia Center at the Michigan State University Libraries.)
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