The Very Hungry Caterpillar has been a staple in nurseries around the world since forever – well, actually since 50 years ago. It’s a gem of a picture book; I can say from experience that the book is endearing and gets kids’ eyes to light up with laughter with the turn of every single page.
Now, it’s 50 years old, and we’re celebrating the book with 10 yummy facts you can share with the littles in your life!
#10. Here’s why Eric Carle thinks his book has been so endearingly popular.
“My guess is it’s a book of hope. That you, an insignificant, ugly little caterpillar can grow up and eventually unfold your talent, and fly into the world. As a child, you can feel small and helpless and wonder if you’ll ever grow up. So that might be part of its success. But those thoughts came afterward, a kind of psychobabble in retrospect. I didn’t start out and say, ‘I want to make a really meaningful book.'”
#9. The author himself didn’t have such a carefree childhood.
When Carle was six, his father uprooted the entire family from Syracuse, New York, to Stuttgart, Germany. It was 1935, and the onset of WWII cast a bleak light over the rest of Carle’s childhood. His father was gone, a prisoner of war, and returned a distant and broken man.
Carle thinks maybe the bright, vibrant colors of his work are an unconscious rebellion against the grayness of his youth.
#8. An art teacher helped him turn things around.
Herr Kraus, Carle’s high school art teacher, encouraged Carle’s talent and even invited his student over to view his collection of banned expressionist art by Paul Klee, Henri Matisse, and Picasso.
#7. The caterpillar was originally a bookworm.
He moved back to New York as a young adult and worked as a graphic designer in the advertising industry before getting drafted and ending up back in Germany.
“I wasn’t thinking of books or anything like that. I didn’t have anything to do, so I took a stack of paper and a hold-punch and I playfully punched holes… then I looked at them. Straight away I thought of a book worm.”
He pitched A Week With Willi Worm to editor Ann Beneduce, but she was worried about the worm part – she and Carle together yelled “caterpillar!” and “butterfly!” and the rest is history.
#6. Pediatricians use the book to promote healthy eating.
The American Academy of Pediatrics suspected the healthy snacks and the bright colors could help influence children’s diets, so in 2011, the group partnered with President Bill Clinton’s charity to send out more than 17,000 special copies of the book to pediatricians, along with growth charts and handouts on healthy eating.
#5. Some interpret it as a Catholic metaphor.
Because of the theme of transformation, the book is often thought to have religious undertones, and has found a home in many a Sunday School curriculums.
#4. It’s been translated into more than 60 languages.
Yiddish, Urdu, Ukranian, Tamil, Somali, Panjabi, Latvian, Icelandic, Gaelic, Catalan, and Aramaic, to name a few.
#3. Some accuse the caterpillar of being a capitalist.
A young East German librarian once told Carle she opposed the book because of capitalism.
“She said, ‘This book would never have been published here. The caterpillar represents a capitalist. He bites into every fruit, just takes one bite and he moves on, getting fatter and fatter. He’s exploiting everything.”
#2. It’s been a Google Doodle.
On the book’s 40th anniversary, Google honored The Very Hungry Caterpillar with a Google Doodle.
#1. Carle hates the television versions of the books.
IN 1993, The Illuminated Film Company released a TV version of The Very Hungry Caterpillar, along with some of Carle’s other works. They’re currently on DVD (and available on iTunes and Amazon), but the author hopes you won’t pick them up.
“Awful. God-awful. I’m ashamed of it.”
Protip: there’s an animated reading of the book on YouTube – check it out with your kiddos!