The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle

The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle
Indeed.

Here’s a 1969 children’s classic from Eric Carle (1929-2021). Carle died aged 91 on 23rd May, so we’re honouring his legacy with a look at his most famous work.

At a mere 16 pages, The Very Hungry Caterpillar is a deceptively simple book. But it’s one packed with a powerful message for young readers.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar: A Book About Change & Hope

Okay, the book follows the life of a caterpillar as it emerges from an egg and heads out into the world to blossom as a being.

The caterpillar is an inquisitive sort and begins searching for food, quickly eating its way to greater things. That includes two pears on Tuesday and three plums on Wednesday.

However, his staggering gluttony is unstoppable and he proceeds to chowdown on chocolate cake, ice cream cones, pickles, and swiss cheese.

As he journeys about he takes in the beauty of the world around him.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar near a great big sun

But! His staggering gluttony results in stomach problems from overeating.

So, he eats a green leaf and is able to recover. As he grows bigger, he then spins a chrysalis around himself and chillaxes for a fortnight. All before emerging back into the world as a beautiful butterfly.

And yes, just to note that’s more or less the life cycle of a real caterpillar.

Right! A surface level overview indicates a greedy caterpillar in need of some serious self control. And caterpillars do overeat to become big and fat. That enables a successful metamorphosis!

Because this is a story about getting older, facing change, and adapting to your circumstances. It’s a story of hope, as Mr. Carle put it.

And it’s a tale also wrapped around a unique and (frankly) beautiful artistic style that revels in its minimalism.

Alongside the sparse but powerful wording, it’s a masterclass in how less can be very much more. As a result, we can only see this book remaining a classic for generations to come.

Very Hungry Caterpillar Media Adaptations

There have been a fair few media interpretations of the book, one of the first being from September 1993. An animated affair us British people took upon ourselves to create.

We believe the narration here is from British poet Roger McGough. For the American dub voice actor Brian Cummings was in use.

If you have a look around on YouTube you’ll also come across some other visual takes on the story. Such as this stop motion animation effort.

And as you can see, the story lends itself to claymation rather well.

We’re sure future projects involving this story will come about over the coming decades. Here’s hoping for a big blockbuster, $200 million budget epic.

A Little Bit About Eric Carle

Eric Carle was a German-American author, designer, and illustrator who worked on over 70 books. These have sold over 145 million copies worldwide.

And yet, somehow, his name isn’t as instantly recognisable as the likes of Roald Dahl (see The Twits) or Dr. Seuss (see Green Eggs and Ham).

Born in New York, his German mother led the family to Stuttgart in 1935.

His early life was traumatic, with his father returning from WWII emotionally and physically devastated. Carle was also conscripted into the army and was left with PTSD.

After the war, he returned to America and forged a career as  a designer for advertising agencies.

Author Bill Martin Jr. spotted one of Carle’s illustrations and requested he work with the illustrator on a picture book. This turned into Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? and published in 1967.

It was an instant bestseller and from there Carle began his own series of works, include The Very Hungry Caterpillar, The Very Lonely Firefly, and The Very Quiet Cricket. Of his works he said:

“I do my best to simplify and refine, to be logical and harmonious. But I also try to keep an open mind, to listen to my intuition and allow for the unexpected, the coincidental, even the quirky to enter into my work. Ultimately, my aim is to entertain, and sometimes to enlighten, the child who still lives inside of me. This is always where I begin. And just as in my boyhood, making pictures is how I express my truest feelings.”

10 comments

  1. What a guy. Brown Bear, Brown Bear for like 6 months was the only thing that could get my (now 1 year old daughter) to smile, the monster. And now she loves the Hungry Caterpillar. It’s really cool getting to share these with her, when I myself grew up reading them.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Excellent choice! Next it’s Spot the Dog, Where’s Wally, and Roald Dahl. Then War and Peace!!!! Or maybe not. Perhaps Mr. Men instead. They all build character, in one way or another.

      Liked by 1 person

    • It’s definitely a go-to kid’s book for children. In the UK, and alarmingly, Watership Down was also on the curriculum.

      Now I’d like to see a VR take on The Very Hungry Caterpillar. Or a Metroidvania type roguelike shingdig!

      Liked by 1 person

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