Title: The Very Hungry Caterpillar
Author: Eric Carle
Genre: Baby Board Books
Age Category: Infant to 2 years
The Very Hungry Caterpillar: Summary
Eric Carle’s classic baby board book, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, begins with a small white egg resting on a leaf by moonlight. When the sun comes up the next morning—on Sunday—the little egg hatches and a tiny, very hungry caterpillar pops out.
The caterpillar goes searching for food over the course of the week. It finds and eats holes through several kinds of fruit, food that you might expect a caterpillar to like. For example, on Monday he eats through an apple, on Tuesday two pears, on Wednesday three plums, and so on. However, after eating five oranges on Friday he is still hungry (he is a very hungry caterpillar!), so on Saturday he eats holes through a bunch of human food, including chocolate cake, a cupcake, an ice cream cone, a pickle, and a sausage. All this food gives him a stomachache, so on Sunday he eats only a cleansing green leaf, which makes him feel better.
The caterpillar is now fat and no longer hungry. He builds a cocoon and, after several weeks inside, he nibbles his way out (hungry again?) and shows himself to be a beautiful butterfly.
Subjective Appeal: Beautiful Art, Satisfying and Funny Story
The most attractive feature of this baby board book, and the central locus of its subjective appeal for babies and toddlers, is Eric Carle’s beautiful bold illustrations. The final illustration of the butterfly is especially stunning.
In general, the illustrations consist of brightly colored collage elements pasted on a white backdrop. The collage elements are made of coarsely hand-painted paper that was either cut or torn to assume the required shape. For example, the shapes depicting tree trunks have rough torn edges while the shapes representing leaves have smooth, cut edges. In addition to collage, Carle used colored pencil to highlight certain features (e.g., the hair on the caterpillar’s back).
Overall, the artistic effect is illustrations that are bold, colorful, and highly textured in a way that reminds me of Ezra Jack Keats’s beautifully illustrated children’s books (see my article, “Multicultural Children’s Books: Author Spotlight on Ezra Jack Keats”). The textured look of Carle’s illustrations makes toddlers want to touch them.
The story in this children’s book adds to its subjective appeal. Even in a simple baby board book like this, several of the classic elements of a good story are present. For example, the book has a beginning where the main character is introduced, and a satisfying climactic ending where the caterpillar turns into a butterfly, completing his cycle of development. Even for a toddler, this story structure makes the children’s book appealing.
Finally, the book is funny! As I noted in “Children’s Books: How to Choose Them, Part 6 – Humor,” kids find the absurdity of the caterpillar eating large quantities of human food like lollipops and ice cream particularly hilarious. That part always got a smile out of my kids when they were young.
Developmental Value: Biology, Numbers, and Days of the Week
In addition to the aspects of the book that give it kid-appeal, this baby board book has significant developmental value for infants and toddlers. First, and most obviously, the book is a delightful introduction to the lifecycle of a butterfly, touching on the caterpillar, cocoon, and butterfly stages.
Second, this children’s book can also introduce toddlers to numbers and the days of the week. As noted in the baby board book summary above, the caterpillar eats through one apple on Monday, two pears on Tuesday, three plums on Wednesday, four strawberries on Thursday, and five oranges on Friday. Saturday and Sunday are, of course, also mentioned.
Finally, the range of simple, familiar objects depicted in the book—fruit, sweets, the sun, the moon, leaves, trees, caterpillars, etc.—can help very young children in their language acquisition. As the adult points to the pictures and says the words, the child can absorb the meaning of the words. Once a toddler has had this children’s book read to her a few times, the book is simple enough that she can enjoy completing the book’s sentences as you read, exercising her memory.
Bottom line: this classic baby board book by Eric Carle is an excellent choice for infants and toddlers; it should be in every family’s collection. Kids love this book for its beautiful illustrations and satisfying, funny story. The book is also great for the cognitive development of children, introducing them to the biology of caterpillars and butterflies, as well as numbers, days of the week, and basic language. Thus, I encourage you to support our work by purchasing The Very Hungry Caterpillar through the links in this post, or in the Children’s Books and Reviews Online Bookstore.
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