As Eric Carle's illustrated story, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, marks its 50th anniversary, we celebrate one of children's literature's enduring classics.
In the light of the moon a little egg lay on a leaf…
How many millions of times must those words have been uttered by indulgent parents during the past half century?
As generations of small children the world over know, that magical sentence is the prelude to the charming, funny and very colourful tale of The Very Hungry Caterpillar, one of the greatest of all children’s picture books, written and illustrated by New Yorker Eric Carle in 1969. Whilst the bright, hand-painted tissue paper illustrations contain more than a whiff of late 60’s counterculture art, The Very Hungry Caterpillar is not so much a book about flower power as it is about insect appetite. Over the course of a week our larval hero chomps his way through a veritable smorgasbord of culinary treats (mostly, it has to be said, on a truly gargantuan Saturday), before the transcendent reveal of the book’s final double-page spread.
Fifty years young this year, The Very Hungry Caterpillar endures as Carle’s masterpiece. The author/illustrator, the son of German immigrants, was by no means a one hit wonder. Other bug-based books like The Bad Tempered Ladybird and The Very Busy Spider remain perennial bestsellers whilst his collaboration with Bill Martin, Jr. on the Bear series yielded wonderful results. But, ultimately, it may be the uplifting conclusion of The Very Hungry Caterpillar that sets it apart. For as Carle himself says:
“It is a story about hope. You, like the little caterpillar, will grow up, unfold your wings and fly off into the future.”
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