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The Very Busy Spider

A lesser-known book by Eric Carle of Hungry Caterpillar fame, this works very well as a tactile board book for babies and toddlers.

The spider lands on a fence post near a farm and starts to spin her web.  As she does so, all the animals from the farm come up and try to convince her to do something else.  The spider doesn’t reply, however – “she was very busy spinning her web.”  Eventually, having finished her web and caught her fly, she falls asleep, leaving the owl to hoot unanswered at her.

Each animal makes the appropriate noise (“Baa! Baa!” bleated the sheep.  “Want to run in the meadow?”) so this is a good book for teaching animal sounds as well as their names.  There is minimal text on each page and what is there is repeated or in the same pattern, making it easier for young children to identify words and their meaning.  The fly appears on each page before it is finally caught, and both it and the web are embossed onto the page so that young readers can trace them with their fingers.  The web itself grows exactly as a real web does, with the key threads, the spokes and then the net being completed bit by bit.

This has been enjoyed by both the little bookworms and the youngest at 9 months is already starting to copy the noises made by the animals.  Enjoyable and educational with clear bold drawings.

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The Very Hungry Caterpillar

This cleverly constructed picture book was first published in 1969, and remains a classic.  Apparently Eric Carle was punching holes through stacks of paper when he came up witb the idea for a story about a bookworm.  A worm was not sufficiently appealing as a protagonist though and ‘Willi the Worm’ evolved very quickly into a caterpillar.  The holes, however, remained, showing the caterpillar’s path through his various meals.  The enjoyably tactile holes and Carle’s simple, vibrant illustrations have made this one of the most iconic children’s books of all time.

The story is a simple one: the caterpillar hatches, feels hungry, and munches his way through a variety of things before eventually becoming a butterfly.  The humour builds up to Saturday’s final ill-advised binge on junk food and delivers a timeless message on the perils of poor eating as the caterpillar suffers a stomachache before detoxing on ‘one nice green leaf’.

Not only does it contain a nice little moral about healthy eating but without doing it overtly (which children are rightly suspicious of; even young children dislike being patronised) The Very Hungry Caterpillar also teaches children to count to five and the days of the week, the names of several fruits and the life cycle of moths and butterflies.

The book is short and particularly in board book form little fingers can enjoy poking through the holes left by the caterpillar.  The simple list format also means that it works when read even from a very early age.

The pedantic will no doubt take issue with the mislabelling of the caterpillar’s little house as a ‘cocoon’ (rather than a chrysalis – cocoons are for moths) but that is hardly a major flaw in what is otherwise a perfect little book.