What makes a children's book so popular that by 2014, the 45th anniversary of its publication, more than 37 million copies had been sold and it had been translated into more than 50 languages? In the case of Eric Carle's The Very Hungry Caterpillar, it's the combination of wonderful illustrations, an entertaining story, and a unique book design. Carle's illustrations are created with collage techniques. He uses hand-painted papers, which he cuts, layers, and shapes to create his colorful artwork. The pages of the book vary in size, which is part of the fun.
The Very Hungry Caterpillar: The StoryThe story of The Very Hungry Caterpillar is a simple one that emphasizes numbers and days of the week. The caterpillar is not only very hungry, but he also has unusual tastes in food, ones that delight children. After popping out of an egg on Sunday, the very hungry caterpillar eats holes through the book's pages as he eats his way through a variety of foods, beginning with one apple on Monday and two pears on Tuesday and ending with five oranges on Friday and 10 different foods on Saturday (chocolate cake, ice cream, a pickle, Swiss cheese, salami, a lollipop, cherry pie, sausage, a cupcake, and watermelon).
Not surprisingly, the very hungry caterpillar ends up with a stomach ache. Fortunately, a serving of one green leaf helps. The now very fat caterpillar builds a cocoon. After staying in it for two weeks, he nibbles a hole in the cocoon and emerges a beautiful butterfly. For an entertaining explanation of why his caterpillar comes out of a cocoon rather than a chrysalis, see Eric Carle's website.
The Very Hungry Caterpillar: The Artwork and DesignEric Carle's colorful collage illustrations and the book's design add immensely to the book's appeal. Every page has a hole in it where the caterpillar eats through the food. The pages for the first five days are different sizes, corresponding with the number of pieces of food the caterpillar eats. The page for the day the caterpillar eats one apple is very small, a little bigger for the day it eats two pears, and full size for the day it eats five oranges.
Why Eric Carle Writes About Small CreaturesAs for the reason so many of his books are about small creatures, Eric Carle gives the following explanation:
"When I was a small boy, my father would take me on walks across meadows and through woods....He'd tell me about the life cycles of this or that small creature....I think in my books I honor my father by writing about small living things. And in a way, I recapture those happy times."
The Very Hungry Caterpillar: My RecommendationThe Very Hungry Caterpillar was originally published in 1969 and has become a classic. It is a good picture book to own or to take out of the library frequently. Children 2-5-years-old enjoy hearing the story again and again. Babies and toddlers particularly enjoy the board book edition. Happily, you will enjoy reading it to them again and again also. Add to the fun by making a story sack to go along with the book. See directions for a variety of story sacks, including a story sack for The Very Hungry Caterpillar on the About.com: Family Crafts site. (Philomel Books, 1983, 1969. ISBN: 9780399208539)