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The caterpillar with an appetite
by Asa Butcher
2009-06-25 09:07:10
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The Very Hungry Caterpillar
Written by Eric Carle
1969, Puffin

In the summer of 2001, the New York Post reported that President George W. Bush never leaves the White House without his copy of the children's book The Very Hungry Caterpillar - well, well, the infamous man did have some taste after all. Today marks the 80th birthday of Eric Carle, the book's author, and this year also marks the 40th anniversary of the aforementioned book's original release, so what better way to celebrate both landmarks than with a review of the beloved book.

Four years ago my first daughter was born and, like all impatient fathers, I went shopping for gifts that she wouldn't be able to use for at least two years. I was in the children's section of a local bookshop when my eye immediately caught sight of the green caterpillar staring out at me from the shelf. Pow! I guess if time travel is possible then that is how it would feel; my body stood rooted in that bookshop while my mind rewound 25 years to the last time a copy of The Very Hungry Caterpillar was in my hands.

As I flicked through the pages I could clearly remember the story, the ingenious holes, the foods the little caterpillar eats and the beautiful conclusion – of course, I bought it. When I got home my Finnish wife picked up the book and asked why had I bought this book. My eyebrows raised a few centimetres and then I exclaimed, “Haven't you ever read The Very Hungry Caterpillar, or literally “Oikein Nälkäinen Toukka” in Finnish?” She shook her head and went back to her magazine.

Part of me was happy that the book was a part of my childhood that I could eventually share with my daughter and about a year later I did. Together we would turn the ever-growing-in-size pages, sometimes the corners were a bit soggy from being chewed, but it slowly became a bedtime favourite, even my wife laughed at the way I always read out the list of sweets near the end in the same manner every night – cher-ree piiiiie! My daughter soon found the holes and would have to poke a little finger through each before turning the page – you soon find that there are a lot of holes.

As my daughter's vocabulary grew I began to notice that The Very Hungry Caterpillar is packed full of useful everyday words, ranging from the introduction of counting, as the caterpillar increases his daily fruit intake, to the days of the week, colours, the concept of time, growth and even a bit of caterpillar/butterfly biology - you can't help but admire the amount of information crammed into a mere 225 words and see why it has been translated into more than 47 languages since its initial release in 1969.

spring09However, as that proverb reminds us, one picture is worth a thousand words and with this in mind the vibrant artwork of Eric Carle could be enough to sit this book alongside some of the classics of literature! There were some nights when I was reading through the list of sweets and I felt as though the pictures could be plucked off the page and eaten - often I would head straight to the fridge after my daughter had fallen asleep. The colours and style of Eric Carle are instantly recognisable among the other classic children's books and it is a comforting feeling knowing that one day my daughters will also recognise his illustrations and books.

As for the foods, well I know that as a child the sweets feast looked delicious and now, as a supposedly responsible parent, I love the book for being so nutritionally balanced! How can you not be driven to a snack when reading about a little caterpillar munching his way through pears, plums, strawberries, oranges, chocolate cake, ice-cream, a pickle, Swiss cheese, salami, a lollipop, a cherry pie, a single sausage, a cupcake and a whole slice of watermelon - we can skip the green leaf! In fact, I may have just discovered why the corners of the book were chewed so often!

As our copy of The Very Hungry Caterpillar is looking rather battered this joint anniversary could be the perfect excuse to return to the bookshop and purchase a new copy in preparation for my second daughter, but this time I may search for a laminated version. As for my older daughter, well today could be a great excuse to indulge in our very own "Very Hungry Caterpillar" feast during which we try to eat everything that the little hero munches on and in the same order! Wish me luck!

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Eric Carle's Official Website:


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Emanuel Paparella2009-06-25 16:56:11
Food for thought on those thoughts on food! But of course children unlike us adults imagine much and think little. Those children's books which are based on that premise are usually the best for children and have much to teach "rational-logical" adults too: The Very Hungry Caterpillar must undoubtedly be one of those. Be that as it may, good luck with your gastronomical adventures, Asa.

Thanos2009-06-25 20:17:30
Amazing finding the book I had in my childhood becoming my daughter's favorite so many years after!

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